There’s a lot to prepare for in high school. It’s a time when kids are figuring out what they’re passionate about, and with that comes the dizzying rush of team practices, theater auditions, orchestra rehearsals, after school jobs and summer internships. And we haven’t even gotten to the academics yet. Administrators and teachers encourage students to pursue advanced-level classes in high school, and more and more schools are working to make options like honors level, Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and college credit courses available to all students.
The hard work and motivation indicated by a transcript that lists good grades in these types of classes can help students get into college and prepare them to thrive once they get there. Students can stretch their horizons by taking advanced-level coursework and earn college credit through AP and IB exams or by taking courses at local colleges. But these advanced-level classes do more than get students college credit and impress admissions officers—they keep kids stimulated and excited by a curriculum that serves them by challenging them. Each type of advanced class has its advantages, so we’ve made you a guide to clear up what your options are.
Schools offer courses designated as honors or advanced for students who want a more challenging or in-depth level of study in their classes. Honors classes differ from AP or IB classes in that they are created by the school, not an outside organization, and do not offer potential college credit. Students may need to take a placement test to qualify for honors-level classes. Taking advanced classes can help boost a student’s grade point average—for instance, Baltimore County uses a weighted four-point GPA scale that awards one extra point for honors courses and 1.5 extra points for AP or IB courses.
Advanced Placement courses are yearlong classes taught to prepare students for exams that are written and administered by the national organization College Board. The College Board offers AP exams in more than 30 subjects, and most schools offer AP options in core subjects like calculus, sciences, English language and literature, as well as a selection of foreign languages and electives options. AP courses are designed to be equivalent to college-level classes and are meant to challenge and ready students for success as they continue their education. Students who take the test are scored on a scale of 1 (no recommendation) to 5 (extremely well qualified). Some colleges allow higher AP scores to be used to place students or exempt them from introductory coursework in the subject, and most allow them to be used for a limited amount of general credit.
The International Baccalaureate degree is a worldwide diploma program that is completed over a student’s last two years of high school, though many schools that offer the program also run a Middle Years Program meant to prepare prospective IB students for the advanced-level coursework during 9th and 10th grade. To earn a diploma, students must take six IB subjects, as well as a theory of knowledge class. They also write an extended essay on a topic of their choosing and complete a certain number of CAS (creativity, activity and service) hours. This variety of requirements creates a balanced breadth and depth of learning that aims to encourage knowledgeable students with an intercultural understanding of the world. Unlike AP tests, IB exams are scored on a scale of 1 to 7. Typically colleges accept 6s and 7s on higher-level tests for credit.
While high AP and IB exam scores can both earn students some kinds of college credit, students in high school can also earn college credit by taking actual college classes. Dual or early enrollment programs allow high school students to take college courses and earn college credit at a local community college. Students may qualify for tuition discounts or free tuition and can work towards earning a certificate or associate’s degree at the college or transfer credit to a four-year institution.