Honors, or pre-AP, classes differ from regular classes in that they are generally faster paced and often dive deeper into subject content. Some schools offer honors classes freshman through senior year, although many cut the honors version of a course if the equivalent Advanced Placement (AP) course is offered. As a result, honors classes are usually offered freshman and sophomore year, with AP class options junior and senior year.

AP courses incorporate the same subject material covered in a semester college level course. These courses are faster paced, more challenging, and require a significantly greater amount of study/reading time outside of class. While there are a few AP classes that can be taken sophomore year, like AP World History, the majority of these courses are offered junior and senior year.

AP and honors classes do provide a competitive edge when applying to college. One of the primary factors college reps consider when admitting students is “rigor of curriculum.” They want to see students excelling in challenging coursework and compare which classes a student has enrolled in to the classes that were available. Since students attending DC metropolitan area schools have access to over 20 AP courses, they are expected to challenge themselves by taking some of these courses.

Not only do AP and honors courses look good on your high school transcript, they also help you prepare for college level work. AP classes are structured more like college courses and include a large cumulative exam at the end of the course. Depending on your AP exam score, you can potentially earn college credit for the class. This is usually the case when you earn a score of 4 or 5 on the exam; however, exact scores required for college credit vary by college and the course.

You might consider taking every available AP and honors course in high school because colleges do consider rigor of curriculum as a primary factor for admissions Instead of taking this approach, enroll in the most challenging curriculum that YOU can succeed in. Don’t select classes just because you think they will look good on your transcript or your friends are taking them. Be honest about your academic strengths and weaknesses. Think about how much time you want to spend on academics versus your other interests (i.e. sports, extracurricular activities, part time job, etc).

Your current teacher is usually the best person to ask for advice on next year’s class placement. He or she has seen how you handle current class material and generally knows the scope of classes for next year. A strong interest in the subject and good grades are also signs that you may benefit from more advanced classes. Consider taking an honors or pre-AP course offered in those content areas. For example, if you are interested in science, take honors Biology as a freshman and AP Biology as a junior or senior.

Some of this planning starts as early as middle school. If you eventually want to take AP Calculus and AP Spanish in high school, you will need to take Algebra I and Spanish I in 8th grade. Click here for a guide to class selection based on subject and career interests.