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AP/Honors FAQ

Do I have to take AP or Honors courses to be admitted to a four year college?
No! Many colleges accept students who have completed a basic college prep curriculum. Taking AP and Honors courses makes you competitive for a wider array of colleges, but they are not required. For Cal State, you can complete the basic A through G requirements with a 2.0 or higher GPA and be admitted to some Cal State campuses. As long as you complete 4 years of English, 2 years of history, 3 years of math (up through Algebra 2AB), 2 years of lab science (Biology and Chemistry), 2 years of the same foreign language, 1 year of visual or performing arts, and 1 additional elective course, and all your grades are “C” or higher, you will most likely be admitted to some of the less competitive Cal State campuses. For UC, a 3.0 or higher GPA in the above course pattern will most likely make you admissible to UC Merced; the other UC campuses require considerably higher grades and rigor of coursework. College Center staff will help you choose appropriate colleges based on your GPA, rigor of coursework, SAT scores, etc.

If I don’t need AP and Honors courses for college admission, why are they important?
There is extensive research indicating that the more rigorous your curriculum in high school, the more likely you are to graduate from college. AP and Honors courses help you develop the study skills you will need to be successful in college level coursework.

Is it better to take an AP course and get a “B” or to take an Honors class and get an “A”?
Unfortunately, the answer to this question is that it is better to take an AP course and get an “A.” For the most competitive colleges, they are indeed interested in admitting students who have completed the most rigorous curriculum offered by their high school and who have received top grades. However, most colleges admit most of the students who apply, and some do not expect students to have already completed college level work in high school, because, after all, isn’t that what college is for? To do college level work? High school is not just boot camp for college, it has a much broader function, to allow you to develop your academic abilities and explore extracurricular activities that interest you. The value and appropriateness of AP courses can be debated endlessly, but for admission to UCLA, Berkeley, Stanford, Ivy League and other highly selective schools, generally you will be expected to have successfully completed extensive AP coursework.

You should take courses that interest and challenge you and that you can be successful in. Overloading on AP courses can result in your struggling in one or more of them. Some students are able to take three, four or even five AP courses successfully, and for others, one is enough, or one is too many. It is a decision you need to make for yourself; do not choose your courses based on what your best friend is doing. How much time do you want to spend on homework every night? Will you have time to stay involved in your extracurricular activities, will you get enough sleep? Are you taking AP courses in areas that you are strong in? Taking a very heavy course load that results in extracurricular activities falling by the wayside is not a good course of action. It’s all about finding the right balance.

How important are AP scores in college admissions?
At the end of every AP course you will take an AP exam. AP exams are graded on a scale of 1 to 5, five being highest. For very selective colleges, AP scores are important, as they want to see that you mastered the course content. For less selective colleges, your grade is the most important factor and they will not hold a low AP score against you.

Do all colleges give credit for AP courses?
The University of California and California State University give credit for scores of “3” or higher. Highly selective colleges generally require a “4” or “5,” and some have eliminated or reduced the amount of credit they will give. For specific AP policies, you can check the college’s website. Many colleges advise against skipping the introductory level of a course, even if you received a passing score on the AP exam in that subject.

How many AP courses do I need to take to get into “insert college name here”?
There is no simple answer to this question. When you visit colleges or talk with the reps when they visit the College Center or our College Fair, you can ask about their “admitted student profile.” Do the students they admit generally have AP or honors courses on their transcripts, or do they admit a lot of students who have taken a basic curriculum?

How can I decide if a certain AP or Honors course is right for me?
-Ask your current teacher in that subject if they think you are ready for the next level.
-Ask the AP or Honors teacher about the workload, what it takes to be successful.
-Talk to your guidance counselor; they can help you pick the right level.
-Talk to College Center staff about college admissions standards; we try to be very honest about the likelihood of being admitted to a college based upon your academic record.
-Talk to other students taking the class to find out what the workload is.
-For AP courses, go to the College Board website and look up the course description.

When should I not take an AP course?
-If the subject is not of interest to you.
-If you are taking it only to load up on AP’s without regard to your ability to keep up. Do not “roll the dice” and just see if you can do it. If you can’t keep your grades up, you will be faced with retaking classes in adult school, summer school, on-line or at the college level to keep your college eligibility on track.
-If you are struggling at the regular or Honors level in a given subject, an AP course may be too difficult. If your parents, teachers, counselors and College Center staff are telling you it seems like too much, you need to consider that advice carefully.

When is it time to “kick it up a notch” and take an Honors or AP course?
-If you are getting A’s and strong B’s easily, you should probably move up a level. It ‘s tempting to coast and get good grades easily, but the rigor of your curriculum is important to colleges, so you need to find a good balance. If greater effort on your part would make it possible for you to handle a more rigorous curriculum, go for it! You won’t regret it when senior year rolls around and you have great choices for college. College isn’t easy, you need to do as much as you can in high school to prepare for it.