At this time of year, students and parents are focused on course selection and there is quite a bit of uncertainty about the value of “Academies”, AP classes, AICE vs. IB diplomas and whether “Dual-Enrollment” classes are appropriate.
Beyond the high school graduation requirements in your state (20 to 24 credits), the classes you select serve some important roles:
- The single most important factor for academic success as an undergraduate and in the college admissions process, is taking the most challenging and relevant curriculum a student can comfortably manage.
What do Admissions Officers Consider?
|College Admissions & Financial Aid Tips: What Do Admissions Reps Consider?|
- Foundation courses in high school are important to subsequent undergraduate studies. Understanding the potential impact of taking AP Lang or getting off the “calc-path” to your undergraduate experience is essential. For example, if you have an aspiring physician–there is a required set of undergraduate courses and high school can prepare you for success in those courses.
- Your transcript matters most! The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) annual State of College Admissions report confirms (yet again) that universities continue to indicate that the high school transcript (your curriculum and GPA) is the single most important factor in the college admissions process. If you feel interested in reading the entire report:
CLICK to VIEW the 2018 Report
While a student’s GPA and transcript are a significant determinant of admissions and academic success, there are as many as five to seven qualified applicants for every available space in the freshman class. As a former admissions committee member and a current Cornell alumni interviewer, I can assure you that admission committees seek to create a freshman class that is diverse in intended majors, geographic origin and personal interests.
Students who are successful not only in admissions, but as actual undergraduate students, are those who have well defined interests, nurtured as early as middle school and further developed throughout high school.
Having an academic niche or a personal passion outside the classroom builds motivation, focus and academic success.
What inspires your student?
Yes, these are the most challenging courses available in high school and will prepare your student for the reality of the demands of the undergraduate academic experience.
Moreover, your scores on AP exams allow admissions to objectively compare students across high schools. AP exam scores are NOT a required element on your college application, but excluding them in the space provided on the Common Application hints at your score. No one fails to share a “4” or a “5” on their college application. BEWARE: some high schools actually report your AP score on your transcript.
AP exam scores may also substitute for SAT/ACT scores at Test-Flexible universities. For example, including three exams of your choice allows subject-specific test takers to reduce test anxiety and increase their chances of college admissions.
For a complete list of available AP and their descriptions CLICK HERE for AP COURSES.
Ask me which AP tests are invaluable, if not essential, given your student’s educational plans.
Despite the best of intentions and the best time management, enrolling in too many AP classes can create hours of homework thus limiting time available for meaningful extracurricular activities (which are also essential for admissions success), needed sleep and family harmony (parent-child dynamics suffer when students are stressed and unnecessary homework completion “arguments” ensue).
For example, if your student is STEM focused, there is little admissions advantage gained from taking AP History classes which have exceptionally large homework demands.
COLLEGE ADMISSIONS TIP: Again, admissions representatives aren’t impressed by APUSH on a STEM applicant’s high school transcript. The flip side, humanities driven students might consider the importance of “big data”! All disciplines are now moving to analytics. So, while AP Physics isn’t necessarily your cup of tea, if you’re a pre-law, business or even an aspiring English major, consider AP Statistics, AP Psychology or AP Computer Science adding breadth to your file setting you apart from the typical humanities applicant.
Don’t follow the crowd- but focus on creating your unique high school curriculum plan
that is relevant to your education, college admissions and career objectives. Leverage my extensive knowledge of academic disciplines and explore some unusual major areas of study (increasing your odds of admission and making you a stronger student).
AP vs. IB vs. AICE
As noted, the Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) and AICE programs are college-level courses providing the opportunity to earn college credit.
The underlying educational philosophies are quite different. The AP program is offered through the College Board and allows students to select one or a dozen courses tailored to their specific goals.
In contrast, the IB program was developed in Europe and as the name implies, it’s an international program. Students earn a diploma by completing a specified number of courses across a range of subjects. To earn a diploma, there are specific distribution requirements. In some high schools, students are allowed to enroll in just a few IBs without earning their diploma. This is also the case for the AICE program.
IB courses and the overall program place a significant emphasis on writing and developing critical thinking skills. Earning an IB diploma requires each student to complete an extended essay on a research paper. Unfortunately, many high schools don’t schedule the timing of the essay to offer students the opportunity to submit their IB research papers to nationally sponsored essay competitions or to include on their college applications submitted early in the senior year.
A noteworthy difference between an AICE and IB diploma is flexibility. Students can select courses within three AICE curriculum areas. AICE is the most recent of the programs (piloted within the state of Florida), and it was only recently that the Common Application even recognized AICE as an option for designating course level. It is one of the newest advanced academic programs. AICE courses aren’t as difficult as AP or IB courses. AICE courses don’t often prepare students for success on required SATII subject tests.
Like the IB diploma, students within an AICE program take a variety of different level exams with specific subject area distributions with an option to earn an AICE Diploma. Few competitive colleges accept AICE credits towards the undergraduate transcript.
The AP program creates opportunities for students to learn specific content and subsequently tests this knowledge on AP exams. Courses have content objectives. AP exams have become the gold-standard of an academically rigorous curriculum. Earning a high grade on an AP exam can overshadow the high school transcript. For STEM students to be competitive in the admissions process, AP Calculus, AP Bio/Chem and/or Physics, APCS are invaluable and often expected on a student’s transcript to be a viable candidate in the most competitive of colleges. Likewise, courses in AP History or AP Economics or AP Lang/Lit will be invaluable to preparation for many Humanities and Business students.
College Admissions TIP: As discussed in my blog on required testing (see side bar above for links to recent newsletters), many competitive colleges require SATII subject tests. AP exams better prepare students for these exams than do AICE or IB classes. In some sense, this is expected, as both AP and Subject tests are administered by the College Board.