There are several levels of rigor for high school courses: regular/standard, honors, advanced/college-prep, and dual enrollment. This post will primarily discuss advanced/college-prep high school courses and compare them to dual enrollment**.
Before you select the intensity of the courses you take, ensure that you know the admission rate for freshmen applicants at your target institutions. For instance, in North Carolina, freshmen admission rates are:
|UNC Chapel Hill||- 27%|
|Meredith College||- 61%|
|UNC Asheville||- 70%|
My older daughter took three advanced courses (Calculus, Statistics, World History) in her sophomore year of high school. My younger daughter never took an advanced course. Both daughters were admitted to their first-choice colleges (UNC Asheville and Meredith, respectively.)
Here are some things I learned as the parent of a student taking advanced courses.
Volume of work: Although it probably varies by teacher, the volume of work for advanced courses is crazy. They are fast-paced and intense. They require more effort than actual college courses. If you can handle most advanced high school classes, you can handle most 100- and 200-level classes in college.
Frankly, I thought advanced courses were too hard. As an example, in her HS senior year, Older Daughter took a dual enrollment class in economics. A friend of hers took economics as an advanced HS class. This table compares their workload.
|Course type||Dual enrollment||Advanced course|
|Taken from||community college||high school|
|Length of course||
|Time spent||5 hours per week||7 hours per week|
They both walked away with 3 hours of college credit.
Stress: The stress of advanced courses was horrible for my daughter. In her sophomore year, she started out with 4 of them, and I made her drop one, just because the stress was worsening her health. She wasn't allowed to take any her junior or senior years.
Transferring into college: To transfer the advanced class into college, the student must take a national standardized exam. Colleges are allowed to set which score they accept. A student can get a decent score--and the college they attend can still reject it. My daughter's college accepted 2 of her scores and rejected the third.
Even if the college accepts the score, they can also decide whether to call it an elective or a replacement for the same subject. For example, my daughter's dual enrollment English class transferred into college as an English class. Her friend's advanced HS English class transferred in as an elective. Just something to think about.
Starting college as a sophomore: If a student takes a lot of advanced courses and gets good scores on the standardized exams, they can potentially start their first semester of college as a sophomore. This is a hugely-valuable reason for taking them. First, it's (potentially) a way to complete college faster. Also, freshmen are the last students to signup for classes; starting as a sophomore can get a student earlier access to the classes/sessions they want.
Older Daughter started college with 18 hours of dual enrollment and 6 hours of advanced HS courses. She was a sophomore by her second semester.
We did not permit Younger Daughter to take advanced classes; their stress level trumped everything. The lack of advanced classes didn't hurt her admission to college. It hasn't hurt her progress in college either.
Bottom line: There are good reasons to take advanced classes. They (over)prepare you for college. They can make it possible for you to begin college as a sophomore. And top-tier colleges expect to see them on your transcript.
There are good reasons to skip advanced classes (and, perhaps, take dual enrollment instead.) They are often harder than normal college courses and are, consequently, incredibly stressful. You must take a high-stakes standardized exam and, if you don't do well, have all of your effort make no difference on your college transcript. And even when you do well, they could take up your precious elective slots.
Other posts in this series:
Career or money
** Dual enrollment: a program where a high school student can take a freshman college course and have it count on both her/his high school and college transcripts