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My son is filling out his schedule for his high school sophomore year. He wants to take Honors/AP courses, but the honors English and History class he's in now, he struggles to maintain a B and got a C- last semester. Much of it is not due to capability (he scores high on English standardized tests) but due to procrastination, poor time management and missing or partially completed assignments.

This is the schedule he's considering.

  1. Honors English
  2. Honors Geometry
  3. AP World History
  4. Chemistry
  5. French 2
  6. PE

Since he wants to pursue a Science major in college, I don't see the benefit taking AP World History and maybe Honors English.

What do you think especially if you've gone through or are going through a similar situation? Is it better to stay challenged and get a B/C, or take an easier course and apply his efforts on other classes?

  • When I was at school and knew what I would be doing in university, the topics I would have "needed" for uni were not available to me. I chose to do what I liked, to broaden my interest, learn languages and other things that I felt gave me a good basis for life in general. It is not as important as some people might feel to start "early on" in what you want to do. He will have all college to do science, let him do languages and history now as much as he wants. In my opinion, it is better to be in a course you like than in a course that is easy or "more useful". – skymningen Mar 15 '17 at 10:19
  • AP or honors English, math and science are typically more important than history. – L.B. Mar 15 '17 at 15:02
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    @L.B. I disagree. I'd say AP History is the best for a science major, not due to the material it covers (any English class I took was pointless in my opinion), but due to the skills of deriving a position from evidence and defending it, required in all 3 of the AP History exams I took. – sharur Mar 15 '17 at 16:32
  • @sharur True... But going into college, they want English, math and science credits, not necessarily history – L.B. Mar 15 '17 at 17:25
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    @L.B. I wish that was the case. In my experience, they have a whole slew of GE credits that are required. History applied (at least to me) for some of those GE credits. Actually, I "lost" credits in English, because I passed two tests with 5/5's and was only able to use one of them. – sharur Mar 15 '17 at 17:34
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If the AP class has no additional benefit outside of being difficult, taking that AP class and getting a lower grade would be the worse option than taking an easier class and getting a higher grade. The GPA is the only thing that ends up on the transcript.

I was in this exact same boat in high school and wish I had opted for the less intensive classes. I too suffered from procrastination and poor time management. I ultimately got a C in those AP classes, but I never needed any of what I got out of it (AP Botany, AP History) and the lower grades just dragged down my GPA.

Parents often forget that school and education are stepping stones towards goals. Have your son focus on the things that get him where we wants to be. Also, colleges like scores and the AP class does not in and of itself prepare for college.

Now that the practical portion is out of the way, there are other reasons he might want to take those specific AP classes. Maybe he likes those subjects, even though he struggles. Maybe he prefers that teacher over an alternative. Maybe there is a someone taking that class that he wants to be with.

At the end of the day, taking or dropping an extra AP class or two doesn't affect much in the long run. As long as he has good study habits, or is working towards them, and he has a plan on what he wants to do (Science Major +Some Career), focusing on the things that get him where he wants to be are always the best choice.

I say apply the efforts in other classes and stay focused on the end game. If he wants extra history stuff to learn, pick up the Landmark Herodotus or listen to some Dan Carlin podcasts or something. What we need for careers is not the same as what we enjoy for hobby. But if he wants to take the classes to be with a friend, getting a B/C won't end his life or stunt his options.

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    Usually course names are listed on an official transcript as well as GPA. If an application came in with just a grade, I believe college admissions would look at it skeptically. – Acire Mar 15 '17 at 19:00
  • Thank you Erica, I had forgotten about that. It has been a long time. – Jim Mar 23 '17 at 14:24
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In contrast to Jim, and as someone who took such a rigorous schedule in their Sophomore year, I recommend the AP and Honors classes for a couple of reasons.

My schedule was thus:
Honors Algebra I (I had completed Honors Geometry as a Freshman)
Honors English
AP European History
AP Biology
Spanish 2
PE

The first thing to note is that many colleges and univeristies (certainly all of the colleges and universities that I looked at) grade AP and IB classes on a 5.0 scale. Thus a B in an AP class is equivalent to an A in an non-AP class.

Secondly, the material in the non-AP class is not necessarily easier to learn. Often it is the exact same material, out of the same book. If your son's issue is not comprehension or ability, a lower ranking class will not help; if anything, it will make it worse, because instead of learning discipline to not procrastinate, he can submit a project against a lower expectation.

Also, AP classes come with an AP test (which your son apparently does well with), which many colleges will accept for intro classes. I started my college career with 20 credits this way.

Contrary to Jim, if your son plans on going to university he will probably have to take a bunch of classes he does not want or need (Thank you, SO MUCH, GE requirements shakes fist). I was a CS Major, and I still was required to take 20 units of english-style classes and 15 units of history/sociology classes in order to complete my degree (which my AP classes' credit helped with). Wonderful things to get out of the way now, or at least get a grounding in.

Additionally, my experiences with AP classes were excellent in terms of the skills training that they provided, rather than the material knowledge. AP History (European and later US) were wonderful exercises in drawing conclusions from evidence and defending one's position (it was required for the AP exam). I would recommend it for anyone planning to take higher level science courses.

Finally, learning to deal with large amounts of work, budgeting his time, and prioritizing activities (even important activities such as classes, homework, and projects) against one another is a vital skill, both in higher education and outside it as a general work and life. It is, in my opinion best to start it now, rather than in college where one also has to balance things like food, and paying rent into the equation, and were a mistep can set one back months until they can retake a class.

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In high school I took quite a few AP / Honors courses that weren't directly relevant to the major I wanted to pursue. (I was a computer science major, but I took AP English, honors history, AP Chem, AP physics, etc.) And those classes were harder and my grades weren't as high as they probably could have been had I take the regular versions of those classes. But I'm still very glad I took the harder versions anyway.

First, a lot of those AP classes got me out of having to do the equivalent general education class in college. Getting out of basic college writing 101 (and other courses) was amazing. It meant I could get on to learning about the things I cared about and didn't have to sit through a boring class with 100+ other people.

Second, for the classes I didn't get out of, I had a pretty good leg up when starting the class. For example, my major required me to take some science courses (in addition to the general education ones). Since I had taken AP Chem, I was able to take a chemistry class and fly through it. It took what would otherwise have been a time-consuming, hard class and made it an easy class. That made it much easier to handle the my other classes (and boosted my college GPA to boot).

Third, taking harder courses meant I had to learn better study habits. For me, school was never particularly hard, most of the difficulty came from laziness / boredom with the classes. AP classes were harder, to the point I had to learn how to study properly and budget my time better. I'm grateful I got to learn those study habits while I was at home, in a relatively low-risk setting (as compared to college). Going through the transition to college along with getting the shock of having to work for better grades would have been hard.

There are some reasons you might want to avoid them. If GPA is an issue for your son in trying to get into his college of choice (ie. he's borderline for making cutoffs, etc.) it might be worth taking easier classes. Also, find out if the colleges he wants to attend grant higher GPA values for honors / AP classes (some will make a C in an AP class equivalent to a B in a normal class, etc.).

Overall, I would recommend them. If you are worried about the worth of the courses, call an admissions counselor at the college your son wants to go to. They can tell you what an AP / honors course is worth in terms of GPA, ease of starting college, getting out of classes, etc.

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I say 100% go with the honors courses if that's something he wants to do.

I had great grades in everything, but I wasn't put in honors math for 7th grade (due to a B average). From that point, I started struggling in math. I think that was largely situational, being put in a class who didn't take it as seriously, with a teacher who I didn't learn well from. And 1 teacher is all it takes to start the downward spiral, and get 'left behind'. Honors classes generally don't have 'bad teachers.'

I have reason to believe that if I had been put in honors math, if I had been given every opportunity to succeed rather than be told essentially I'm not smart enough to learn with the smart people, I would not have had this blemish on my academic record, which reverberated through the rest of my academic career, and even became a factor in receiving a Bachelor of Arts rather than a Bachelor of Science.

Side note, I am also an avid procrastinator, but still managed to get through all my honors courses with minimal effort and good grades.

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