At this point, no one should be surprised to learn that taking a rigorous high school course load will help a student improve his or her odds of being admitted to a competitive college or university. Students who take multiple Honors, Advanced Placement, or International Baccalaureate classes are positioning themselves to be amongst the best qualified in any applicant pool, provided that they are earning high grades in those courses, of course.
But there’s another benefit to taking demanding courses in high school that a lot of guidance counselors neglect to tell high school students about: passing scores on IB or AP Exams can equal college credit. It makes sense that this benefit is something that most high school juniors aren’t thinking about at the time; they’re focusing on getting into college and aren’t yet worried about what classes they’ll take once they get there, but with fewer and fewer students being able to finish college in four years, savvy high school students will do their best to enter college with as many units as possible.
Another way to come into college with some units taken care of is to take courses at a local community college. Taking community college courses while in high school also looks impressive on an application, and, as an added bonus, can help prepare high school students for the demand of college-level courses (though students attending ultra-competitive high schools may actually find their community college courses easier than their high school courses, especially if they’re taking courses like AP Microeconomics or Honors Chemistry.)
Students at larger state campuses are frequently having a difficult time getting into all of the courses that they need to graduate in the standard four years, but those who planned ahead in high school and took Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate exams can sometimes achieve sophomore or even junior standing at a college before even setting foot on the campus. This can allow a student to graduate ahead of schedule, or pursue other interests like a second major or a semester abroad and still graduate on time.
The pressures that college-bound high school students face are constantly growing; in addition to wondering who they’ll take to the prom and trying to remember key Scarlet Letter quotes for their English mid-term, some students are being told that small mistakes they make now could ruin their futures. That’s a lot to put on someone who may or may not have a driver’s license yet.
Conversely, it’s also not in a student’s best interest to coddle him and make him believe that the competition isn’t as stiff as it is; it will only set him up for disappointment. The best plan is to not only inform students that college admissions are getting more competitive, but to then inform them of the best ways to make themselves more attractive to admissions committees. Wisely-chosen AP and IB exams (as in, ones a student believes he has a reasonable chance of passing) are a great choice for both college admissions and an on-time graduation.