Colleges will look closely at the level of rigor a student has in their schedule. What does ”rigor” really mean? Honestly, it can mean something different for each student. Rigorous courses are meant to challenge the student; colleges want to see that a student has appropriately challenged herself.
Choosing rigor can start as early as eighth grade when many students have the opportunity to get a head start by taking courses for high school credit. If you are ready for that level of work, go for it! Keep in mind that grades earned in these courses will, in most cases, impact your high school GPA and class rank, which eventually will be of paramount importance for college application.
Once in high school, students have a choice on what course level to take. College prep, accelerated, honors, dual-enrollment, and AP are among the choices for increasing level of rigor. This is where there really is not one right fit. While a student may be honors or even AP material in math, for instance, he may never be ready for anything beyond college prep in English. That is okay. Do not feel pressured to take on more than you can handle. Getting in over your head can result in lower grades and a stressful year. It’s not worth it.
Are you ready for more “rigor”?
If a student is getting straight A’s in college-prep classes, the admissions’ team will be left wondering why the student didn’t throw in an honors class or two to challenge herself. In many cases, the college would rather see a student earn a B in more challenging, weighted courses than straight A’s for taking on less challenging courses. Make a point to ask while on your college visits.
For juniors and seniors who are considering taking AP courses, it can feel like jumping off into the deep end wondering if you can thrive or survive. There are several factors involved in this decision. First is your current teacher’s recommendation. Ask her if you are AP material. Your teacher sees who you are every day as a student and should know the expectations of the AP courses in her department. In 2009, ACT Research released results of a study that provided PLAN (the little sister to the ACT) score benchmarks for potential success in AP courses. Finally, if in addition to the PLAN test you’ve taken the PSAT, Collegeboard identifies students at your school with AP potential. Just ask if you were identified, or read the 2006 report here on Collegeboard.
In the end, do what is right for YOU and your educational goals. It is the rare student who can take four AP courses and not be part of the 56% identified as being “in over their heads” in a 2009 Thomas Fordham Institute study. Balance is what you’re striving for.