Class rigor and GPA: Advice needed for rising Freshman

Hello, I just discovered this subgroup and I’m hoping I can get some guidance on helping my child choose classes for next year.

I have a child that is interested in playing his sport in college. Here is my question: my child has the choice of taking all honors level classes next year, but if he does this, he is likely to obtain a couple of Bs/B+ (I have older children who can attest to the difficulty level). OR, he can take the college prep level of the 1 or 2 classes and likely receive an A.

He is unsure what to do and wondering how this may affect recruiting. For example, I know the recruiting questionnaires ask for GPA. Do college coaches/admissions look at the Rigor when it comes to recruited athletes for more highly academic D1 and D3 schools? I suppose that the preference would be for kids who are obtaining the highest grade in the highest rigor classes. But if obtaining an A is not possible in the highest rigor class, what would you suggest?

If anyone has any experience with this, I am all ears!

You may want to post this in the Athletic Recruits subforum to reach more parents who have gone through that process. Best of luck to your kid!

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I moved it. Thank you!

Oh thanks! I thought that’s what I did initially :crazy_face:

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Major hooks (including recruited athlete) > GPA > Exceptional ECs or leadership > Course Rigor (including honors or AP) > All other ECs > Test scores.

If you think you’ll get a B in a weighted course or an A in an unweighted, the unweighted will help more. Obviously greater than a B on a weighted course is better still.

(All of this is general trends and there are always many specific exceptions.)


Is this formula just for recruited athletes?

You’re saying that a high GPA based on regular courses trumps a “not quite as high” GPA if a student takes many rigorous courses? Including highly rejective D1 or D3 schools?


Disclaimer: I have NO experience with recruited athletes.

In general though, here are some things I would suggest my kids consider when thinking about honors classes (and you know your own kids and school best):

  • Sometimes better teachers are available in honors… or it might be the opposite (sometimes worse teachers are assigned to honors classes because the kids are presumed to need less help!)
  • The challenge of an honors class might inspire the kid to do better overall (or might discourage the kid, you know your own kid best!)
  • Kids in honors classes might learn more, which could have a positive effect on grades in the next year in high school, and/or standardized test scores, and/or success in college
  • If the kid takes the honors class, they might get a B/B+ but at least have the possibility of getting a weighted A. If the kid takes non-honors, the best they can do is an unweighted A.

To be clear, I am offering my opinion, nothing more, and not specific to recruited athletes.

But, yes, I think getting a higher GPA is better than taking the most rigorous classes with a lower unweighted GPA. I’m sure that’s a debatable POV. I’ve also heard that from a few current and former highly rejective college AOs (speaking informally in a personal setting, not in their official capacity). And I’ve seen anecdotal evidence of that over and over again. Of course its better to take rigorous honors/AP courses and still get A’s. But in a highly rejective environment, there’s very little credit given for taking harder classes and not getting A’s. The idea that getting a B in AP Calc AB instead of an A in regular Calc is not borne out in my perspective. Schools value the GPA itself, even more than ever.

I agree with all your points. Personally I would rather take a shot with honor/AP course work and risk the B. My prior comment was about end result – which is more valuable to colleges, unweighted A’s or weighted B’s (which reduced unweighted GPA).

It depends on the college you’re targeting. If you are going for a not terribly selective school (but maybe a d1 powerhouse in your sport) rigor doesn’t really matter. If you are targeting a Williams or Amherst, I suspect it does. Others can speak up about Ivy League recruiting and the AI, which, I believe, strongly favors a high gpa and discounts rigor.


I don’t disagree that all A’s in regular classes looks perhaps better than all B’s with a course load of AP classes.

Im thinking of no rigor and all A’s versus rigor and a few Bs. I find it hard to swallow that Yale, for example, would take the first student over the latter. Maybe though for hooked students, that is the case. But there aren’t that many hooked students, and many of the most selective colleges generally indicate that both grades and rigor are equally important.

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Our one daughter was an Ivy + Stanford + 3 top University programs recruit for a non revenue sport - so this is just based on her journey:

Rigor mattered and was even advised by one coach to push her Comp Science (not an interest) to the next level and add to her schedule. She had some B’s on her transcript - her school had not had a 4.0 student in years - but pushed herself. Both my kids say college is easier vs HS and have higher college GPAs.

Coaches requested school profile that makes it very clear where she fit regarding rigor (in the top group) for her classes. School does not rank.

She passed pre reads at every school. 4 years of elected student leadership, 5 core courses each semester, year round sport practice, seasonal employment and received award from school determined by admin for her leadership (after college decision in). So, she is what CC calls an average excellent student and we are well aware that her sports hook made a difference.

She is thriving at her chosen school (ivy) - academically, socially and athletically.

If your child is looking at a revenue sport - I imagine that rigor is more flexible.

*to clarify she passed every preread of the college programs she was interested in and did not submit prereads to every Ivy - college fit was equal to sports fit for her and her pickiness made us nervous :slight_smile:


I know it’s really early in the process, but do you have a feel about how high the athletic level will be? That does make a bit of a difference. Generally the more you can contribute to the team, the more flexibility you are given. That’s all relative of course, you still need to be both a good student and athlete.

My suspicion is that mostly A’s with a few B’s he would be better off with the harder classes, as long has he has time for them. I know sometimes depending on the sport and the level of off season training/competition that the time commitments can be steep.

Part of that is that it shows rigor, part of that is that if he does end up at a high academic school, even if he gets in through the athletic door most of his classmates won’t. So he will be in classes with kids who by and large took the hard classes and got A’s. So the better prepared he is academically for that the better.


Any chance you can do a mix of both to fit your kid? After my daughter finished freshman year, she enrolled in the honors classes for her areas of strength and regular classes for math (she has a math disability). She had A’s in math classes sophomore year, decided to enroll in honors pre-Calc this year and gained enough confidence that she will be taking AP Calc next year as a senior. We haven’t entirely finished this process yet, but so far the feedback from coaches at the highly rejective schools has been very positive - although she isn’t planning on majoring in something with a lot of math.


Anecdotal, but concur: ivy recruit friend of family was told to step up the rigor in 11th when it became obvious there might be an ivy spot. The coach said to. Kid definitely did not get as high in rigor as the top kids but suddenly there was a big jump. And didnt get all As either, but did well enough to get in.


EVERY SINGLE info session attended mentioned rigor as the most important factor. In fact, my DD was advised to take AP Euro over AP Gov because Gov was considered a soft AP (I didn’t even know there was such a thing).

As far a recruiting, every Ivy/top D3 coach wanted to see Jr year schedule and some asked about classes slotted for Sr year. This always came up in the very first phone call so it suggests to me that the actual class selection matters.


At our school students with very rigorous schedule and a couple of B+ have better outcomes than the ones with straight As is less rigorous classes.

Not that anyone does poorly, but the very top schools appear to favor the kids who really pushed themselves.


It’s a topic of conversation every year at my kids school which feeds a decent number to Ivys and their peer colleges that after you account for the kids with clear hooks and the kids who were superstars (near perfect GPAs and test scores plus rigor) that it is consistently some of the under the radar kids who were not in the most rigorous classes (and not exceptional in any EC) who are the surprises over many with u/w 3.8-9 in the top rigor courses. Essentially the superstars filled the top rigor quota and after that they tended to pick kids with high GPAs and something else that stood out.

We know many parents with multiple kids a few years apart who modified their strategies on their younger kids and pulled them quickly from more rigorous classes at the first sign of grade imperfection and swapped them into the next class down and swear it helped them get into the top schools over their older peers who stayed in the hardest classes and had higher weighted but lower unweighted GPAs, often otherwise with nearly identical activities and test scores.

Of course nothing is an absolute. These kids who stepped down a level usually were taking a couple APs and decent level classes, just not the top level for any subject for the school. For example, they would still get through basic non-AP Calc by senior year, just not Calc BC or the Multivariable/Linear Algebra the school offers, or do regular Bio, Physics and Chem instead of AP Bio or AP Physics C or instead make AP Enviro one of their sciences instead of AP Chem. Most still took the AP English classes which are almost standard and our school. So it’s all relative – perhaps the answer is there is a line after which MORE rigor has diminishing returns versus GPA. Perhaps a little rigor helps, but a lot only matters if it has no impact on GPA.


Consistently the opposite at our school.

Could part of this be that your school has relationships with and is already known to top colleges and perhaps they are willing to overlook a bit of rigor for something that really stands out?

“A” students are a dime a dozen. Surely a school like Stanford wants it all. Rigor and all the extra stuff that is really notable. And of course, we are all aware that institutional needs play a role. Maybe your children’s high school consistently is able to help these top colleges fulfill those institutional needs.

I’m guessing your children’s high school is the exception and not the rule.