By Renee Runge
Let’s face it: it’s getting harder and harder to get into college these days. So much of your child’s future depends on what they do during high school, and what they do during high school is dependent on the choices you make by researching options way before it’s time for them to start 9th grade.
If your child will be graduating from middle school soon, it’s important to begin asking yourself (and your child) what they see themselves doing as a high schooler and even college student. Do they want to challenge themselves with a more advanced curriculum in high school? How do you go about deciding what classes to register for?
There are many reasons to enroll your student in an advanced high school program; access to college credit opportunities, a like-minded learning environment, and a higher quality education are among the most popular.
While every high school will have different advanced programs available for your child to enroll in, here is a breakdown of a few of the most common advanced class programs you’ll notice when deciding what path your incoming high schooler will follow for the next four years.
Advanced High School Program Overview
You may also like: How to Be a Successful Student: Forming Good Study Habits
Nearly every high school should offer some form of honors courses. If your child’s high school uses a weighted GPA, earning an A in an honors course should be worth about a 4.5 on the GPA scale, although this varies depending on the state and the school.
Typically, the students who partake in honors courses are those who want to be in a more advanced or accelerated learning environment than the regular classes offer, but may not be ready to commit to the same level of study required for AP or dual enrollment courses.
This is a great option for high schoolers who are heavily involved in extracurricular activities that take up a lot of their time outside of the classroom, such as competitive sports, but who are also dedicated to their studies, looking for a little more of a challenge in school, and want to be in classes of like-minded people.
In my experience, honors courses were opt-in every semester rather than a program that students were locked into. When course selection came around, it was possible to indicate that you were interested in taking honors in certain subjects rather than all subjects if you wanted. For people who may excel in certain subjects but have difficulty in others, honors is a flexible way to pick what works best for the learning style of each individual. However, some schools may offer a dedicated honors program that students are required to stay in once enrolled in courses.
A step above honors courses in difficulty, Advanced Placement (AP) is probably the most widely recognized advanced high school program in the United States. The courses that make up this program are administered by the same company that produces the SAT, College Board, which goes to show how ingrained AP is in the American school system.
Boasting “college-level curricula”, Advanced Placement courses are no joke; however, enrollment should operate similarly to a high school’s honors courses in that they are opt-in, unless your student attends a magnet school with different rules. For example, over my high school career, I took five AP courses–four of those courses were required for all students at my school to take, and the last course was one of my electives.
A major difference between Advanced Placement and honors courses is that AP offers students the chance to earn college credit while in high school in addition to receiving a boost of about 5.0 per A-letter grade to a weighted GPA.
The college credit is earned through proctored written and multiple-choice exams covering all of the material learned throughout the school year. They are scored out of 5, with scores above a 3 considered “passing”. These exams definitely require a fair amount of studying, but if your child has a good teacher it makes all the difference in their preparation.
If your student manages their course load well and is looking to take courses that are the same level of difficulty as college courses, AP is a better option for them than honors. It might be beneficial for them to think about taking AP courses in subjects they are confident about while doing honors for those they are not as strong in if they want to avoid taking any regular classes.
My favorite AP classes, of course, were the two English courses: English Language and Composition and English Literature and Composition.
International Baccalaureate Program
Weighing in at about 6.0 points towards GPA for A-letter grades at some schools, the International Baccalaureate (IB) program dwarfs AP by a large margin. This program, focused on developing students through an international teaching lens, is extremely rigorous as an advanced high school program, but can actually begin as early as elementary school in some areas.
In my area, IB was only offered at the high school level, and even then, only at a few select high schools, the “IB World Schools”. Obtaining the IB diploma from successful completion of the program is considered highly prestigious and can open students to a world of opportunities from the IB alumni network or those familiar with the program.
Once you decide to be in the IB Program, your entire course schedule becomes oriented around the IB classes. Some schools only deliver IB classes in the junior and senior year of high school, while others take advantage of the IB Middle Year Program for freshman and sophomore years.
Similarly to AP, there are end-of-the-year exams for the IB Program, but many of the courses are two years long. This means the cumulative exams are not only more dense in material than AP, but longer than AP. A single exam for an IB class may take as long as three days to complete all the parts that make up the exam.
In addition to the big exams, each class has multiple major projects and oral exams that are built into the curriculum and are the same for all students around the world in the program. This is where IB begins to become a lot of work.
My average school day in the IB Program saw me staying up until after midnight doing homework assignments and studying for the various evaluation components that factor into receiving passing grades for the college credit aspect of the program. The school day was never over once I got off the school bus and went home. It was one of the busiest and most stressful periods of my life, but I can honestly say that because of it, I was not challenged in the slightest in college – and I go to one of the top ten universities in the U.S.!
I would not recommend that students who are interested in pursuing anything other than schoolwork during high school enter the IB Program, as I knew several people committed to playing sports or working jobs who were extremely overwhelmed. But, if your student is a hard worker who wants to go above and beyond in impressing future colleges, IB might be the perfect advanced high school program for them!
An option for advanced classes that frequently gets overlooked but should not go undervalued is the option to dual enroll in community college while in high school. Every school has a different way of going about this, some only permit it during senior year, while others allow it as soon as sophomore year, but this is the most surefire way of helping your student get college credit while in high school.
Traditionally, dual enrollment is used to help students get pre-requisite or general education courses out of the way before they graduate high school so that all they have to worry about in college are the courses directly related to their major of choice. And of course, doing this saves money on college courses, which can be really expensive.
While other programs say that they reflect what college courses look like, dual enrollment is the only way to get an accurate preview of college. In doing dual enrollment, high school students physically sit in the classroom and learn alongside real college students, completing the same homework and exams that they do.
If your student is mature enough to handle this environment and has a means of getting to the local community college to take the course at the time it occurs during the week, dual enrollment should definitely be a consideration in mind!
We know that every child is different; what works for one child may not be the best option for everyone. This can even be seen among members of the same family. Make sure that you take your time to consider the possible options available at the high school your child will be entering, and start your research early!
It can seem daunting to have to make such a big decision about your child’s future so early on, but hopefully this article, and the many other resources out there, can help you make the most informed decision possible to start building your child’s future success.