One of the questions our clients ask us the most is, should I risk a lower grade in the tougher class, or get a higher grade in the less demanding class? For most Independent Education Consultants, they will say …it depends. You wonder: what can it depend on; well a few things.
All highly selective and even moderately competitive colleges and universities will be most interested in the rigor of course selection throughout the high school years. If a student with a “soft” schedule applies to a highly selective school, their application will be basically dead on arrival. The school will not take that application seriously and will move onto the next applicant. If a school had to make a choice between a high GPA and a rigorous curriculum, they will pick the curriculum every time.
Schools want to know that no matter the high school you went to, you took the hardest and most competitive course load you could handle. The most important part of high school is push yourself and grow both academically and personally. Part of that includes knowing what course load you can handle. A school does not want you to take all AP classes your junior and senior year, and struggle to maintain good grades. They want you to be selective and decide where you can push yourself and where you give yourself a break. If you are a math and science geek, did you take the highest courses available? Were you successful or was it a struggle? If you can maintain at least a B in your highest level, then you are taking the right course. OR, are you taking a college prep course and receiving a 98% average? If they had to choose between the two, they would rather a B in honors or AP than a 100% in a non-honors course. Yes, your GPA might not be as high, but most high schools will weight your scores, which is also helpful, and all colleges will acknowledge the rigor you have decided to take on.
The colleges and universities will look at what your high school has to offer and what you took advantage of regarding that curriculum. Did your school offer only five AP courses and you take four? Did your school offer 20 AP courses and you take none? How did you compare to the students in your school? How did you do on your AP exams? All of these things are compared and analyzed while making the decision on acceptance.
For my friends out there who have freshmen and sophomores, my advice to them is to map out what they want to take the next four years and see if it is doable. Don’t be tied to this roadmap but use it as a guide of where they are going and what they want to accomplish. Don’t discourage a student if they want to push themselves but at the same time be the voice of reason when you need to be.
So, you ask, is it better to take easier classes and get a higher grade, or risk taking the harder class and possibly getting a lower grade. I say, it depends! What are your interests and strengths, what can you handle while still being happy and productive? These are all important questions to be asking yourself when you start thinking about your course load for next year. There is no correct answer, just what is right for you!