In the final installment of our multipart blog series, we are focusing on helping answer a question we have been asked repeatedly throughout the years. How much academic rigor is enough? How many honors and AP classes are enough? For colleges practicing holistic admissions which focuses on the whole applicant rather than just strict numbers, the answer is always going to be, “It depends.” However, to add some context to what needs to be taken into consideration, North Shore College Consulting took time after this last application season to speak to admissions officers from around the country..
When pressed to answer these questions, admissions officers stated that the amount of rigor they want to see will first depend upon the high school the student is attending and what classes are offered there. In most cases, applications are read by territory reps who are well versed in each school they are assigned to and can evaluate the student within the context of the opportunities available to them. Some high schools offer 20+ AP options, while others may not offer any.
In a high school where AP courses are available, a student needs to find a load that allows them to balance their life. The student needs to drill down into who they are and what their goals are to determine what they should do. More specifically, taking every possible AP course, but letting grades slip because the student cannot possibly get all of the work done can cause a low GPA that can be worrisome to an admissions officer. Similarly, overloading on rigorous courses, but not being able to get involved in activities outside the classroom is not displaying a favorable balance either. In addition to wanting to admit students who will be active in and out of the classroom, colleges are increasingly concerned with the mental health of their incoming students. They want students on their campus who are happy and secure.
This brings us to the next question. If a student is going to cut back on academic rigor, which courses should they cut back on? Again, the ultimate answer will be, “It depends.” For instance, a student looking to major in a math or science field should probably focus on adding rigor in these subject areas.
Beyond the benefits that a student may see in the admissions process, parents are pushing students to take more and more AP classes because they think this will save them money in tuition. Unfortunately, this is not usually an accurate assumption. Each college and even each major within a college will have different rules about the score needed to award credit, the number of classes that can be skipped due to AP credits and even which AP credits they will accept at all. In addition, co-op programs, study abroad programs, and the all-too-common change in major may also create a need to take additional courses or stay on campus for semesters beyond the traditional four years.
The take away for the students applying to schools that practice holistic admissions is that the colleges want you to take the most rigorous courseload you can take to be successful while still allowing you to be active outside the classroom. Schools want students who are both academically and personally successful.