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Your Guide to Advanced Courses in High School

Updated: Dec 14, 2021


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—Aurora, IL

High school boasts amazing opportunities for academic growth within rigorous course offerings. The most popular of these challenging opportunities is the AP course, but there are other courses offered in schools across the US. These courses may vary in difficulty, structure, and pacing and are often reserved for the most gifted of high school learners. Their nuances and key differences are essential to understand them and make the best choice for your high school year.

AP courses (and their corresponding exams) are the most well-known out of the many advanced classes that your high school may offer. AP courses, run by the College Board (who also runs the SAT and PSAT exams), are intro-level college courses that are offered in high school. Taking and passing the AP exam, which follows the course, may grant you college credit which can save money and time. AP exams are graded on a scale of 1 to 5 and a 3 or above is considered passing. Taking AP courses also strengthens college resumes because the schools will know that you can handle tougher courses. These courses also give you a weighted GPA, which allows it to go past the traditional 4.0. AP courses span the entire spectrum of subjects from English to calculus BC to chemistry and even French. If you believe you can handle a tough course, then an AP may be the right choice for you.

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Both AP and Honors courses are rewarding for students

Honors courses are another type of advanced course offered in high school. They are similar to AP courses in that they are meant for accelerated learners, but there are some key differences. For one, AP courses are generally a tad more challenging overall, although the challenge level will vary depending on the school and teacher. Honors courses do not have the standardized AP exam at the end of the year, but they also don’t give the student college credits either. Fortunately, they do usually give you a weighted grade, boosting your GPA considerably. Honors courses, like AP courses, are based on existing subjects but go into greater depth and move at a faster pace than the regular version of that class. If you want to challenge yourself without the added stress of AP exams, an Honors course may be best for you.


There is yet one more advanced course offered in some high schools that is probably the most rigorous yet. These are called IB (International Baccalaureate) courses. International Baccalaureate courses can grant you college credit, but this often depends on the college that you apply to. They come in two variants: standard-level (SL) or higher-level (HL), both of which can be found at select high schools. However, where IB sets itself apart is with the IB Diploma. If you complete 6 IB courses in each of the 6 categories that IB offers (with 3 to 4 being HL and the rest being SL) and take the IB exam, you can receive the IB Diploma. This diploma is internationally recognized and will significantly improve your chances of getting into the college of your dreams. However, to take the IB exam and receive the diploma, you must go to an IB-approved school, known as an IB World School. Some colleges may remove your General Education requirement if you have an IB Diploma, which is a great way to save a lot of money and time. In these ways, the International Baccalaureate program makes a case for itself as a beneficial advanced course.

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Official International Baccalaureate logo

High school is a great way to learn more about yourself and your limits, and taking an advanced course is one of the best ways to do this. AP courses will offer college credit and a better chance of getting into a good college. An Honors course is similarly challenging but doesn’t have the stress of the AP exam. And of course, the IB course is there for exceptionally outstanding students trying to prove their worth academically to prestigious colleges all across the world. Whichever advanced course you take, it is guaranteed that you will receive a well-rounded and strong education in that subject, leading to amazing results in the future.

Wanna make your college "AP"plications even better? Check out our other STEM·E events in order to boost your resume and show colleges that you are invested!

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