The Fine Line Between Challenging Yourself and Overloading
College Placement vs. Honors or Advanced Placement Level
One of the more frequent questions we get from parents and students is: Is it better to stay at the College Placement (CP) or Honors level in my high school courses and get an A or step up to the Honors or Advanced Placement (AP) level and get a B? Of course, the short answer is it is better to step up and get an A but that is probably not the answer you were looking for here.
The general conventional wisdom is that if you are getting an A at one level of difficulty in a particular subject, that stepping up to the next level the following year will be the right thing to do. Certainly, college admissions committees will appreciate the student who over four years of high school is succeeding academically and continually challenges themselves with more and more difficult courses (ie moving from CP to Honors to AP).
While this may be the conventional wisdom, be careful! The devil is in the details!
Consider the Big Picture
When considering this question, it is important to step back and look at the big picture. Making these kinds of decisions in isolation or one course at a time can lead to suboptimal decision making. Imagine taking 5 honors level courses in 10th grade and you get an A in every subject. Should you automatically assume that you should step up to the AP level in all 5 subjects? Well, every student is different and your own personal decision will depend on your own capacity and desire. There is an important question you should be asking yourself in order to make this determination.
How many APs can I take and still be confident that I can get an A and still have plenty of capacity to pursue my extracurricular activities to the best of my ability while meeting the various obligations of my personal life?
Your extracurricular endeavors are every bit as important as what you do academically and if taking too many honors or AP classes would require so much of your energy that you won’t have the capacity to put your best effort into your extracurriculars then that needs to be considered as well. After all, it is your extracurricular activities and the quality and depth of those experiences that will enable you to communicate your best self through your essays, interviews and letters of recommendation (ie, brag sheets).
Getting a B at a Particular Level of Coursework
But what if you are getting a B at a particular level of coursework? While colleges will still view a B at the honors or AP level as being successful academically, making the decision to step up to the next level of difficulty will require even greater reflection as the demands of a given course will be that much greater and getting a C at the next level would not be seen as succeeding academically when applying to selective colleges.
The key is finding the perfect balance between what you do both in and out of the classroom where you can do your best work at both. While getting a B in a given honors or AP level course will affect your GPA, it will also say something important about your desire to grow and challenge yourself which colleges will appreciate.
Managing Your Mental Health
High schools that offer CP, Honors and AP programs are designed to provide high school students with a pathway to a college-level learning experience. These classes are intended to challenge students and help them prepare for the rigors of college. While taking AP classes can be beneficial in demonstrating your ability to handle college level coursework, it is essential to keep in mind that they can also lead to an increased workload that may cause stress and impact your overall mental health.
Stress is a natural part of life, but an excessive workload can result in burnout, anxiety, and depression. A student who takes multiple AP classes at the same time may find themselves struggling to balance their academic, extracurricular and personal life. This can result in feeling overwhelmed, and cause students to become disengaged with their studies, leading to poor performance across the board. Furthermore, taking too many challenging classes can lead to decreased sleep quality, which can have a negative impact on mental and physical health.
Maintaining your mental health is critical for overall success and so you should be mindful of the number of honors and AP classes you take and the overall workload you will be taking on. You should also consider your academic abilities, interests, and other obligations. Balancing AP classes with other activities, such as sports, volunteering or any other activities you pursue, is essential for maintaining a well-rounded and healthy lifestyle. Seeking support from your teachers, parents, or other trusted adults can help mitigate your stress and ensure that you will be able to manage your workload effectively.
Taking AP classes can be a valuable experience for high school students. However, it is important to look at the bigger picture when deciding whether or not to step up to more demanding coursework. By finding the right balance between your academic, extracurricular and personal life, you can avoid burnout, maintain good mental health, and achieve academic success.
Ultimately, the right question to ask is not whether or not it is better to stay at one level of coursework and get an A or step up to another level and get a B.
In the end, the right question to ask when making these decisions is: where can I achieve the optimal balance between maximizing my own personal academic growth, my extracurricular development and my overall personal wellbeing?
If you’re ready to dive deeper into your college application, check out the guide that our college admissions experts put together to help you navigate all the criteria admissions committees look at.