What Math Class To Take Senior Year? If I Don't Take AP Calculus, Will I Look Bad To Top Colleges?


I am finalizing my courses for my senior year soon, and I am stuck on what math class to take. I have taken Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II, Pre-Calculus and AP Statistics (with A’s in each). I am horrible at math and need a good teacher in order to succeed, so I avoided taking AP Calculus at my high school because the teacher is not good (she makes you learn from YouTube videos and packets while giving hard tests, and I don’t want to ruin my 4.0 GPA over that). Because of this, I am in a tough spot finding a math class this year. I am afraid that what I may pick would look bad for colleges or less rigorous. I am applying to one top 10 college (specifically Duke, ED) and several top 20’s. I have a few options:

I can take dual enrollment college algebra with the University of Florida, I can take Calculus with my local community college (which I’d rather not do since I already planned on taking UF classes and I’m not sure if its too late to switch), or I can take AP Calculus on Florida Virtual School (although I’m not sure my learning would be sufficient on an online math class).

Please let me know if you think I’m over thinking how much top colleges care about this. I’m actually pretty stressed out about it since I don’t want to accidentally put myself at a disadvantage.
Thank you for any advice you can give!

What is your planned major?

What is your intended major, and what other challenging classes have you taken? If you want to major in History or English, 4 years of math that you have should be fine (though doing a Calc course online may not be a bad idea, if you have the choice as to whether to include it in your transcript).

However, if you want to major in any STEM field, including Social Sciences, or in Business, you need calculus. If you find calculus to be extremely challenging, than, rather than take AP Calc, I would recommend that you reconsider majoring in a STEM field. On the other hand, if, by “really bad at math” you mean “I’ll not be able to get an A, but I can manage a B” than perhaps your could consider Calc AB.

In short, if you want to major in a humanities field, you likely don’t really need AP Calc, and you have your four years of math. If you can get a B in Calc AB, I think that a 3.98 with a B in AP Calc Ab would look better than a 4.0 without Calculus. However, others may have different advice.

Only on these forums is getting all A grades in math “horrible at math”.

“College algebra” will duplicate much of the material in your precalculus course; it is mainly for students whose high school precalculus was low quality (based on math placement testing*), or who did not take precalculus in high school. Can you take calculus at UF?

What is your intended major? If it is any STEM field, business, or economics, you will need calculus anyway. Some other social studies fields may find calculus helpful for calculus-based statistics.

*You can try the quiz at http://math.buffalo.edu/rur/rurci3.cgi to check your knowledge of precalculus that will be needed for calculus.

I am not a STEM major, I am thinking econ, history, or public policy. I am totally fine with taking Calculus in college, I just don’t want to take it in high school because of my teacher and I don’t want my choice to hurt my chances of getting into top schools. UF does have a placement exam that I will take, and depending on my score, it will place me in different classes: college algebra if I get from a 0-45%, after that there is precalculus and algebra and trig precaclusus (not sure the difference), then if I get a 76% or above they’d put me in calc. I don’t think I will do that well. Also the reason I go A’s in those classes is because I worked hard, not because I was good at math. You can get an A in any class at my school as long as you work hard when they aren’t AP classes. Thanks for the advice!

I am not a STEM major, although I am considering economics. I am totally okay with taking calculus in college, I just don’t want it to hurt my chances of getting in to the colleges I want to attend. Also at my school, in any non-AP you can get an A as long as you work hard enough whereas with AP Calculus, I’d have to rely on skill more which would cause problems since I am not very skilled at math.

Economics, Public Policy, History or maybe Philosophy (I know I’m pretty indecisive).

Oh also, about how hard my other classes are: I plan to take 6 AP classes my senior year (Psychology, Environmental Science, Art History, Government, Macroeconomics, and Literature) in addition to one honors class (Debate 5, which I’m the President of so I kinda have to take that class) and I’ve taken 12 AP classes before my senior year.

I don’t have a strong opinion either way. I don’t think not taking Calc would stop you from getting into top schools just as much as a B in Calc wouldn’t stop you from getting into top schools. Even an A in Calc wouldn’t add much to your resume. Don’t underestimate how much essays count. I think those would be more of a deal breaker than Calc.

I’m more surprised by the number of AP classes your senior year. Those aren’t the toughest AP classes but it’s still a lot. That said, if EC’s are canceled this fall it might not be too stressful. You just want to give yourself enough time for essays. After the initial apps you’ll still be writing a lot of essays for honors colleges and scholarships. My S20 was still writing into March.

They will know from your school profile that Calculus was offered. Duke is selecting from the top students, and top students tend to take Calculus (and do well in it). It’s not going to be a dealbreaker, but it’s going to make you a less competitive candidate. As they say on their website

Thanks for the information! I may just take calculus through FLVS then. I knew they’d be able to see calculus as a class my school offers, however I wasn’t sure if they would care if I took a dual enrollment math instead vs the AP calculus course.

Calculus in college will cover material at a faster pace than high school calculus AB (which covers about a semester or a little more of single variable calculus in college).

Economics majors commonly have to take calculus. At Duke, you would need to take two semesters of single variable calculus and a semester of multivariable calculus: https://econ.duke.edu/undergraduate/major-minors/ba-economics .

Maybe drop the Psychology or Art History class (which are interesting, but no AO will want/expect on your high school transcript) to give yourself more study time for the AP Calc at your school …you can take intro Psych and Art History while in college.

Yeah, I definitely have my work cut out for me either way.

You are not restricted to what she gives you. There are plenty of sites with Calculus info and help. The Teaching Company sells what is essentially the AB course at https://www.thegreatcourses.com/courses/understanding-calculus-problems-solutions-and-tips.html which goes on sale regularly or your library may have it. And so on.

You should also get Calculus Problem Solver or similar book with worked problems https://www.amazon.com/Calculus-Problem-Solver-Solvers-Solution/dp/0878915052 which is like a SAT prep book focusing on a single subject. As your class covers a chapter then you find the matching one in the book and start working problems. Cover the answer, see if you can do it, check. Repeat until you’re getting them right, and then the test will take care of itself.

Expect to spend 5-10 hours each week doing homework, reading the assigned material, and doing the extra problems on your own. Plenty of kids are smart enough to do well in math/science classes but they simply don’t put in (or know to put in) the time it takes to succeed in these classes. Well, now you know. Whether you do the work is up to you.

“Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II, Pre-Calculus and AP Statistics (with A’s in each).”

How did you take five math classes in three years - did you do DE during the summer or online classes or all these official hs classes. Anyway, as others have posted, drop the non-core APs and find room for Calculus, it can be AB but it has to be taken in a high school setting.

Many, many students start Algebra in 8th, 7th, or even 6th grade. OP said nothing about “in three years” or “official high school classes”. Not sure why that would even be relevant.

OP - “I didn’t take the hard class because I didn’t want to ruin my 4.0” is a brilliant way of completely turning off a college admissions officer. Take your HS Calc AB class. Facing challenges is a part of life.

I was just curious that’s all, the OP claims to be bad in math and taking Algebra in 7th and Algebra II in say 9th wouldn’t be consistent with someone who’s bad in math.

The OP is probably pretty good in math, but just humble about it, a refreshing change for sure!

“so I avoided taking AP Calculus at my high school because the teacher is not good (she makes you learn from YouTube videos and packets while giving hard tests, and I don’t want to ruin my 4.0 GPA over that)”

Making this excuse because you are afraid of your 4.0 makes me think that you only care about your GPA instead of learning something that might be helpful. In college, you will have professors that are good and bad. Sometimes you if its a required course and a bad professor is teaching it. Will you change your major and switch to English?

If I were you, take AP CALC and your future self will thank you. Get a tutor or even if you are near a college email professors and see if they have any students available to help you over zoom.

Take the AP Calc at your HS; it sounds like it will be a good challenge. I agree with other posts re not taking one or two of the other non-core APs. Out of curiosity, what APs have you taken so far, and how did they go? In general, the tougher APs commonly require lots of outside work to do well, so maybe you are selling yourself short thinking you cannot get an A in AB.