What is Course Rigor? How This Can Help Your Admissions Narrative

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    Rigorous academics refer to the perceived difficulty of your high school courses. While your GPA is an important admissions factor, your level of academic rigor is equally as important. This is because students who take lots of Honors, AP, IB, and college courses demonstrate their willingness and ability to challenge themselves academically. 

    There are lots of factors that college admissions officers look for in an applicant, but mostly, they are looking for applicants who are the most likely to succeed within their school’s curriculum. Ultimately, this is why taking rigorous courses and consistently challenging yourself reflects well on your college applications. 

    As a high school student, you likely have questions such as: Are AP classes worth it? And what does academic rigor mean? In this article, we will review the importance of course rigor and the tangible effects it can have on your college applications. 

    Academic rigor definition

    To start, what is academic rigor and why is it so important? Academic rigor refers to how difficult a particular course is. For example, AP, IB, and AICE classes are all recognized for their academic rigor. Similarly, Honors courses and classes taken at local colleges are also considered rigorous. Students don’t need to take every advanced class available to them, but they should take as many advanced courses as they can comfortably balance. 

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    What college admissions offices really want

    College admissions officers want to admit capable and passionate students. This is why students who have successfully managed rigorous coursework in high school are often favored in college admissions. While it’s important to earn good grades and perform well on standardized tests, it is equally important to challenge yourself. 

    College admissions officers admire students who are more concerned with the rigor of their coursework and their ability to receive a top-notch education than students who are more concerned with earning perfect grades. Colleges also want to see evidence that students are eager to take advanced courses in subjects they are interested in and can maintain (or increase) their level of academic rigor throughout their high school career. 

    The importance of AP classes

    High school students often have the following questions: Do AP classes matter? Are AP classes hard? And how many AP classes should I be taking

    There are many AP classes benefits. Depending on your final AP test score, you may qualify for college credit. Ultimately, this means that you will have more room in your college schedule to take more electives or take lighter course loads. In some cases, if you’ve taken enough AP classes, you may even be able to graduate a semester early. Of course, this all depends on the college you attend and its policies. 

    Taking AP classes will also help prepare you for college-level classes. Colleges recognize this and are more likely to accept a student with a high GPA and a history of rigorous coursework. Colleges want to accept students who demonstrate a willingness and ability to challenge themselves by taking advanced courses. 

    How many AP classes are there?

    CollegeBoard offers 38 AP Classes. While not all of these courses will be available at every school, if you see a class you are interested in taking that is currently not offered at your school, reach out to your high school guidance counselor to learn how you can sign up for the course online. 

    How many AP classes should i take?

    How many AP classes you should take depends primarily on two factors: how many AP classes your high school offers and how many AP classes you can successfully manage. In most cases, getting a B in an AP class is seen more favorably than receiving an A in an Honors or standard class. That said, earning a C in an AP class won’t impress college admissions officers. Do your best to try to strike a balance. Take classes that challenge but don’t overwhelm you. Ask your teachers and guidance counselor to help advise you on which classes to take. 

    How many AP classes should i take?

    How many AP classes you should take depends primarily on two factors: how many AP classes your high school offers and how many AP classes you can successfully manage. In most cases, getting a B in an AP class is seen more favorably than receiving an A in an Honors or standard class. That said, earning a C in an AP class won’t impress college admissions officers. Do your best to try to strike a balance. Take classes that challenge but don’t overwhelm you. Ask your teachers and guidance counselor to help advise you on which classes to take. 

    AP classes list

    Let’s take a look at the 38 AP courses currently offered. Again, if you see a class you’re interested in taking that isn’t offered at your school, it may be possible to take this course online. Reach out to your high school guidance counselor for further instruction.

    History and social sciences
    • AP Comparative Government and Politics
    • AP European History
    • AP Human Geography
    • AP Macroeconomics
    • AP Microeconomics
    • AP Psychology
    • AP United States Government and Politics
    • AP United States History
    • AP World History: Modern
    Sciences
    • AP Biology
    • AP Chemistry
    • AP Environmental Science
    • AP Physics 1: Algebra-Based
    • AP Physics 2: Algebra-Based
    • AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism
    • AP Physics C: Mechanics
    World Languages and cultures
    • AP Chinese Language and Culture
    • AP French Language and Culture
    • AP German Language and Culture
    • AP Italian Language and Culture
    • AP Japanese Language and Culture
    • AP Latin
    • AP Spanish Language and Culture
    • AP Spanish Literature and Culture
    English
    • AP English Language and Composition
    • AP English Literature and Composition
    AP Capstone Diploma Program
    • AP Research
    • AP Seminar
    Math and computer science
    • AP Calculus AB
    • AP Calculus BC
    • AP Computer Science A
    • AP Computer Science Principles
    • AP Statistics
    Arts
    • AP Art and Design 
    • AP Art History
    • AP Music Theory

    AP classes ranked by difficulty

    According to CollegeVine, the three most difficult AP classes are AP Physics 1, AP US History, and AP Chemistry, and the three easiest AP classes are AP Psychology, AP Comparative Government and Politics, and AP Environmental Science. 

    AP classes online

    College admissions officers will not penalize students for not having access to AP classes as a part of their high school curriculum. After all, each school is different and not all schools have equal resources. That said, it is possible to take AP classes online. Capable students without access to AP classes should look into taking a few online courses. This will demonstrate their ability and willingness to challenge themselves and actively seek out academic opportunities. 

    Do AP classes boost your GPA?

    It’s no secret that your high school GPA is one of the most important admissions factors. To encourage students to challenge themselves, high schools will sometimes incentivize taking rigorous classes by offering “weighted GPAs.” 

    So if you’re wondering do AP classes boost GPA? The answer is yes. If your school calculates weighted GPAs and you want to know how much AP classes boost your GPA, AP classes add 1 point to your GPA. This means that a 4.0 would be counted as a 5.0. Likewise, an unweighted GPA of 3.2 would be considered a 4.2. For Honors classes, weighted GPAs add .5 to your unweighted GPA.

    Examples of academic rigor

    To further demonstrate the importance of academic rigor, let’s take a look at some academic rigor examples. Let’s say two students from the same school have the same GPA but one student took 4 AP classes, whereas the other student only took 1 AP course. The student with a more rigorous course load will be considered more favorably. 

    Let’s look at another example: Student A has a 4.0 GPA but only enrolled in standard classes, despite the fact that both Honors and AP courses were available to them. Student B has a 3.0 GPA but enrolled mostly in Honors classes and took 2 AP classes. Even though Student B has a lower GPA, their willingness to challenge themself by taking more rigorous courses sets their application above Student A. 

    Key takeaways and moving forward

    Preparing for college can feel confusing at times. After all, there are so many factors to consider. This is why it is important to make the most of the resources available to you. Meet with your teachers and high school guidance counselor to help you with your course selection. Course rigor is one of the most important college admissions factors, so consider your high school courseload carefully. If you feel like you could benefit from having professional guidance throughout your high school career and the college application process, reach out to learn more about our services

    Contact a Prepory college admissions coach and start your college admissions journey.

    Our college admissions experts are here to guide you from where you are to where you should be. Through our comprehensive curriculum, individualized coaching, and online workshops, you are set for success as soon as you connect with us.

    During our initial consultation, we will: 

    • Assess your student’s applicant profile and higher education goals 
    • Provide detailed information about our services and programming
    • Share tips on how to navigate the U.S. college admissions process 

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