Calc AB vs Calc BC

Hi - I am trying to understand how the ‘Course Rigor’ part works for top colleges.
I am applying as a STEM major most likely, and I was not offered Calculus BC by my school for junior year, wheras I was offered Calculus AB. Many in my school however, were in fact offered Calculus BC due to certain GPA requirements (need a 3.9 to qualify for BC, I had a 3.87 :frowning: ).

In senior year regardless, I will be doing Calc 3, which is the highest mathematics course offered by my school.

Should this have a large impact on the strength of my overall application? I will be taking the BC test regardless, and have perfect grades in my mathematics courses.


You should take the math course your teacher recommends and calc ab will be enough for most every school in the country.

Calc 3 in HS??? Haven’t personally heard that one. calc AB junior year is already too aggressive IMHO

My public school is insanely rushed, sadly.

I was thinking more of, will this impact the ‘course rigor’ aspect of my application? I was thinking, more admissions based.

It seems more common now to do +2 math acceleration starting in middle school, but then slow down the students by having them do AB then (the rest of) BC over two years in 11th-12th grade. Whereas previously, the students on the +2 track were the best students in math who could handle all of BC (including the AB stuff) in one year in 11th grade.

You should really only do calculus 3 after calculus 2 or BC.

For colleges that use counselor school reports, ask your counselor whether being rationed out of BC will result in the counselor downgrading your rating for how demanding a course selection you had and your overall academic strength, compared to what it would be if you could have taken BC.


Take what your school has recommended and don’t worry too much. Is your school going to let you take multivariable calc after calcAB? Or will you be taking BC and multivariable calc concurrently(which ours allows spring semester 12th if approved)–just be sure your plan is ok with the school .

Calc BC would be good to do. More important than Calc 3. BC is a foundational course. If you skipped that and went on to Calc 3 you would be building on top of a shaky foundation. Colleges would also like to see the Calc BC course on the transcript. Not just a self-study AP exam. If you are passionate about math, you could consider doing the Calc 3 parallelly. Or just leave it for now. Anyway if you are going to engg school, you may take that Calc 3 again in college. There will be a whole bunch of vector calc (Green’s theorem etc) they may or may not cover in HS anyway.

In response to your question, colleges will know that you took the course with the most rigor for your school. While it’s extremely important to build a solid math foundation and not have gaps, I don’t think one needs to take Calc AB and BC over two years. If a student is going on to MV, Linear Algebra and has taken AB only, they should fill in the gaps before MV/LA ( I think it’s two chapters, before proceeding).
Lots of CC posters are used to the program that’s used in their school/state. In CA, it appears that some school systems accelerate in middle school. In our area, this isn’t possible and it’s very uncommon to land above BC calc senior year without outside study ( from middle school).

Both our kids had a small gap and filled it in order to move along. One trig, the other the gap b/w AB and BC calc; Neither had a problem with the gap and both preferred to fill it rather than take a course for a second year with repeated material. It didn’t impact later classes or AP/SAT scores. YMMV.

I have never heard of Calc 3. Not sure what this class includes.
You should also think about what kind of math student you are. If you are truly interested in math, there’s one path and if you are filing in classes more to meet college requirements that might impact your choices differently.

Calculus 3 is ordinarily an alternative name for multivariable calculus (third semester of calculus in college, after the first two semesters of single variable calculus).

It is mostly taken by math, statistics, physical science, and engineering majors.


Thanks, we call that Multivariable. It’s pretty uncommon to take in high school. Usually a handful of kids who start high school with a math-y bent or interest and a couple of years ahead. Not all high schools near us have it.

You really need to discuss with your counselor your specific question on rigor as it doesn’t really matter what other schools offer - your school offers Calc BC and Calc 3. If you take Calc AB your junior year, I would not recommend Calc 3 your senior year, and can’t imagine your school allowing you to take it as as you will be missing a semester of content. At my kids school, you did not have to take the most advanced math offered in order to have the most rigorous box check by your school counselor.

And there are probably 100+ students in our area taking Calc 3 in high school (our district and neighboring) - its a class taught in the high school by college professors (technically dual enrollment) in three high schools and others take it at the local community colleges.

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