Do Honors and AP Courses Matter your Senior Year of High School?

By: Caroline Koppelman

As cliche as it may sound, high school is a marathon, not a sprint. Many students think that colleges won’t look at them unless they’ve had everything figured out since their freshman year. That is simply not true. Admission officers know that a huge part of high school is growth, which is important to convey this in your essays. But, your senior year is a great way to demonstrate what you’ve learned from your experiences in high school. 

It's your last chance to challenge yourself:

If you didn’t start out with all As in the most challenging classes, that’s okay, and you can make up for it to an extent. Taking the most rigorous courses available to you shows admissions committees that you are prepared for a college workload. Taking AP and honors courses your senior year, especially if you didn’t take them as a junior or sophomore, shows that you have matured. If you are able to take on a greater workload AND excel, you’ll be a stronger contender for admission. Key point: you have to actually do well in these courses. You can’t sign up for AP courses and think that simply having them on your transcript is enough. Always repeat to yourself the mantra: the best possible grades in the hardest possible classes.

Your first semester grades and schedule can really make or break your application:

You might only need two more classes to graduate, but if you want to get into a top school you need to take a full schedule. Remember: taking the most challenging course-load shows the admissions committee that you are a serious academic student. They know you are ready to leave high school, but putting in that extra time your senior year tells them you’re the type of student they want on their campus. 

You want to continue your good trends:

If you started out with great grades, keep it up! Senior year is a bad time to start slacking. Admission committees know that there’s a lot of pressure your first semester, so those who take the extra step and challenge themselves tend to shine. Avoid the temptation to take easy classes and have multiple free periods. If you haven’t always been the best student, now is your last chance. While As in your final semesters can’t balance out years of Cs and Ds, the impact of a few Bs as a freshman and sophomore can be mitigated by strong performance senior year.

AP and honors classes are one more way to show what you’re interested in

Keep this in mind when you’re planning. Many colleges will have you select a planned major (or three) on your application. You have the option of checking any box, but it is advantageous if you back it up with proof. So, for example, if you say you want to be an English major and your high school transcripts shows that you’ve taken all of the honors, AP, and elective English courses, you’ll be putting your money where your mouth is. In your senior year you will have more options for interesting classes, so it is a great time to show what you want to specialize in. In your senior year, you may not need to take a class from every major subject. If you are into English and want to take AP Comp and AP Lit, it might be okay to not take a fourth year of Spanish. Remember, colleges are looking for focused students who specialize in one, or a few, things.

Fight for your classes:

One of our biggest complaints from students and parents is about the bureaucracy of their schools. Many students get locked out of a class. Sometimes schools with tight budgets don’t have enough space for every student to take AP Calc. Your guidance counselor might say, “There’s nothing I can do.” Fight for your spot in the classes that you want, and be as aggressive as possible. There is almost always a way to get in, but it might take patience and persistence. We’ve found that the students who are truly persistent get into the classes they want, even if it means more work. 

If, in the worst-case scenario, you truly can’t get into the class, fighting hard will show your guidance counselor your commitment and perseverance. Both are good qualities for he or she to highlight in your recommendation letter.

It’s important to not compare yourself to people from other schools. While some parts of the college application process may be objective (i.e. standardized test scores), most others are not. A 3.5 at one high school may have different connotations at another. If your school only offers five APs to seniors, the expectation will be different that for a student whose school offers ten. You simply have to take the most challenging course-load available to you. There is no specific course load that can guarantee admission.

As you look forward to senior year you may be daunted by the sheer amount of stress and work the college process will entail. It’s okay and understandable to be daunted. But now is not the time to shirk and undo years of hard work and preparation. It’s the time to double down, take hard classes, and work hard in them. It might be brutal, but putting in every bit of effort you can, will help you get in the best position to get into the college of your dreams.