FAQ: "Which is better, A in easier class or B in harder class?"

Question: Which is better for applying to colleges, an A grade in an easier class or a B grade in a harder class?

Answer: An A grade in a harder class.

But for a close second, a B in an AP/IB class > a B in a regular/honors class. Bonus points if a Bio/Physics C/Chem/USHistory/EuropeanHistory/Calc/IB HL/class with a reputation for being hard (i.e. not AP HUG!)

What about for athletes?

I realize many like this “clever” answer, but it does nothing to help students trying to answer this very real question that they are facing.

Basically, it’s telling them that what they think are capable of is not good enough.

Obviously, but not an answer to the question usually being asked.

^ sorry, not if the B relates to your major and you’re hoping for an uber selective college.

The competition is fierce.

The same answer, an A in a harder class. There are tons of athletes that pull off 20+ hour per week practices/games/meets that still get A’s in their AP and IB courses. As @lookingforward said, the competition is fierce.

The original post didn’t specify “uber selective colleges.”

Regardless, there are athletes at HYP that would never have been granted admission without the athletic piece.

Not everything on CC is about the top 20 schools.

But context does matter.
For some colleges, sure, a B in a tough class is fine. On CC, with its blanket advice that B grades will still get you in to that tippy top, it seemed ok to remind.

We’re splitting hairs…

There is a practical consideration of different factors to go through if the goal is to optimize the transcript as to WGPA (especially if this determines ranking) and rigor.

  1. Does the higher rigor class provide a 1 point or half point advantage? If a "B" equates to a W4.0, easy choice. No reason to choose the easier class where the max is capped at 4.0 unless one of the below factors overrides this consideration. If a "B" = 3.5, it might be a harder choice. What are the probabilities of a "B" in the harder class vs an "A" in the easier class?
  2. Is this a core math, science, English, social studies class or core to their intended major/interest or is it an "extra". Examples: a 5th year foreign language AP class. If this is a very time consuming class (see factor 3), maybe the student is better off taking a weighted course in another subject or a non-academic (gym, music, art, shop, etc...) class P/F. Another example is AP Calculus BC vs AP Calculus AB after PreCal. Especially if the student is not intending to be hardcore STEM, AP Calculus AB may be the smarter choice for these purposes. By contrast, if the choice is AP Stats vs AP Calculus AB, for the more selective schools, not taking calculus is a risk.
  3. How much of a time sink is the more rigorous class? Is there a possibility that this class will detrimentally affect other classes? How much stress will this add to an already stressful second semester Jr year or first semester Sr year? This factor and factor 2 are often intertwined.

Of course there are other factors that affect class selection, including scheduling, interest in the subject matter, ability to get college credit and perceived quality of teachers.

I think the “response” in the OP’s post really is quite patronizing to students who have obligations to work, family, and extra curriculars that might have an impact on their admissions and scholarships. I talk to a lot of high school students, and I’ve never met one dumb enough to say “Gee, I’ll take an easy class when I know I can easily get an a in a harder class and still have plenty of time to hang with my friends.” Rather, they are weighing things like, “I can be the only student from my school to make it to nationals in debate, but I’ll have to put in a lot of time. That might make it hard to get an A in AP English, which is a time consuming class. I can still take the AP English test and get a 5 based on my writing skills already, so maybe I should just take the regular English this year.” Or, here’s another one: The AP English teacher is notorious for NEVER giving an A on first-quarter grades as an attempt to “send a message” to grade grubbing students. Going into senior year, I don’t want to risk that looking like I’m slacking on my mid-year grade reports, so maybe it’s not worth the risk that I might end up with that teacher. Maybe I should just sign up for regular English. Or, my mom is working two jobs right now, and I see how tired she is. I’m old enough now to get a part time job and help out, but I know I can’t manage that and still get all As in AP classes, what should I do?

These are REAL scenarios from kids I’ve known. These are the real dilemmas that kids come to this site to get answers to. Maybe if we are committed to “equity” as we claim to be, then we should think about what it would sound like to a kid reading the OP’s flip “answer.”

S22 seems hellbent on taking all the hardest classes then getting B’s and C’s. Every year he signs up for them again, no matter what I say. Applications should be interesting next year…

@ccprofandmomof2 Of the hundreds of times the question has been posted on this site, and similar sites to which I contribute, nearly all of them are phrased as the OP has listed. I can count on one hand the number of times the texture you included would have been detailed in the post. If the poster asked the question with more detail, users, including the OP, would likely give a different (or more detailed) answer. So your little snark comment was not called for, IMO.

I guess snark is a matter of opinion. I find the original post completely snarky.

In theory, at least, if you have legit constraints in your life, you’re not gunning for a level of colleges that requires certain performance (academic and EC) to garner attention. You’re practical in more respects.

No one is begruding kids the right to make their own considered decisions. But this question arises for more than poor or time-robbed kids. It is more than about compassion, it’s the facts of various levels of competition out there.

For some, a sad fact, they will never reach that dream. For others, including low SES, a goal, one they do work toward.

Many ways to reach the goal. Many colleges will be happy to see the rigor, with a B grade. We can help kids find them.

I think part of this is the nature of this board. Most students and parents are interested in competitive schools. How many times is there a post about needing more match and safeties, and the responses add more reaches?

For the tippy top, it’s true they want As and rigor. And while a B here or there isn’t going to derail an application, there are plenty of kids with 4.0s vying for the same seats.

For the vast majority of the other colleges, it’s way more nuanced.