AP, IB or Community College? I get asked the following question often: “Should I take AP or IB* classes offered at the high school or should I take classes at the community college while I’m still in high school?” In Washington state, these community college classes are called “running start.” High school students can take them for free and they receive both college credit and high school credit. Many other states have this option under different names.
*AP = Advanced Placement. IB = International Baccalaureate
…Where you take the class is less important than WHAT class you take.
You can attend a community college and choose classes like PE, business math, and automotive tech. If you plan to go to a technical college and want to study auto mechanics, then these classes are okay. (Personally I feel every student benefits with math at least through Algebra II and learning another language before PE and business math – you could read those auto manuals in their original Japanese or German languages, right? :).
However, if your goal is to get into a 4-year college, then you’ll want to stick to English, math, history, foreign/world language, and science at the community college – especially math, science and foreign language.
All colleges value students who go above and beyond the minimum high school requirements. So if you’re taking an AP or IB Calculus class or Calculus in the community college, that’s excellent; you’re taking Calculus! Same thing if you are taking a fourth or fifth year of Spanish (or any language) at the AP/IB level or at a community college – the level of the class is the same.
AP/IB are “regulated” classes, that is, they have a set curriculum that is standard for all schools who offer it. Community College classes can teach a variety of topics in their English 101 classes, for example. Because of how classes may vary at community colleges, some 4-year colleges prefer those top level high school classes.
Regardless of what the colleges prefer, taking community college classes in high school will give you credits to bring into college. All colleges review transfer credits to see what classes transfer in and which course requirements they might fulfill. Sometimes, the transfer is straightforward – you take Calculus at the community college and the college you attend gives you credit for taking Calculus. Sometimes, a college may want you to take their class, so you would still get college credit, but that credit would count for an elective requirement instead of a core or major requirement. Each college is different.
If the community college classes are free, and the college accepts the credits, this could shorten your time in college and save you a good amount of money. I have seen students come into college with as many as 45 credits and almost junior status. The trick with that is you have less time to choose a major as many colleges want juniors to have their major already selected. Not a bad trade-off for free college credit, especially if you’re almost certain about your major!
Credit for AP tests is similar. Some colleges may give you college credit for only scores above a 4. Some colleges may let the academic departments decide. The engineering department may only give credit for a 5, and the Spanish for anything above a 3.
Don’t hesitate to ask the admissions counselor at the colleges you’re interested in how community college, AP or IB classes are reviewed. One thing I know for sure, by challenging yourself and taking the hardest classes you can in high school, colleges will consider that a real positive in your admissions review!
Make the right decision for you – consider what classes will challenge you the most as you prepare for college. Then consider the environment where you will thrive. Do you like the structure of high school and the consistency of continuing your education there in the best classes? Does your high school offer AP or IB classes?
Or do you chafe a bit under the rules of high school? (Colleges have rules, too!) But maybe a little more freedom in your schedule, classes that teach more information and sometimes much faster (if you go from the semester system in high school to a quarter system at a community college, you’ll move much faster through your studies) would really help you blossom.
You don’t have to choose which classes to take all on your own. Ask your guidance counselors for advice. Talk with your parents. Ask students who are taking community college classes about their experiences. Ask the students in the AP/IB classes what their experiences have been like. And don’t hesitate to ask college admissions counselors how they look at transcripts and what classes they like to see on prospective students’ transcripts. Gather information, reflect on what’s best for you, and then you’ll make a well-informed decision.
Choose well, challenge yourself in class, and enjoy learning!
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