“B” in an Advanced Course v. “A” in a Regular course

At an information session I attended for prospective students, one of the students asked the Harvard representative if it was better to get an “A” in a regular course or a “B” in an AP/Advanced course on the same subject.  The admission representative responded only half jokingly, “well, it is better to get an “A” in the advanced course.”

If you pressed that admissions representative from Harvard or most other selective universities, they would probably say that it is more important to challenge yourself in tougher courses, both for your own education and for your chances on being admitted.  However, if you changed that same question above and asked if it was better to get a “C” in advanced class or an “A” in a regular course, the honest answer from the admissions representatives would be an “A” in the regular course — at least for the purpose of your chances to get accepted.

This puts a lot of pressure on students to take challenging courses and do well.  It also takes some students — even ones who are very talented — out of their comfort zones.  Some students have their strong subject areas and are accustomed to doing their work in those areas just fine without any help, but when they push themselves in areas they are not strong suits, it can be a little humbling.  Students are forced to ask more questions, spend more time studying, and just generally dealing with a tougher learning curve…nothing wrong with any of this. It can just be a little frustrating.  Some of the most common subjects students have trouble with are:

Algebra / Trigonometry

AP Calculus AB/I

AP Calculus BC/II

AP Statistics

AP Chemistry

AP Physics B

AP Physics C: Mechanics

AP Physics C: Electricity/Magnetism

AP Computer Science

AP Biology

Some suggestions if you are one of these students would be to ask your teacher for help — that is what they are there for. You can also form study groups or use outside tutoring programs like Educator.com and others. 

One final word of caution is to not just all of a sudden think that you need to re-arrange your schedule and cram all of the hardest AP courses into next semester.  This could be painful.  It is generally a better idea to spread your hardest courses out as much as possible, but work with your guidance counselor to decide what path works best for you.    

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