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Rigor Matters, but Embrace Your Strengths

I’m deep into helping students in the course selection process, which means answering questions about what colleges want to see on a transcript. Just as we don’t need to read about the latest diet to learn that eating fruit and vegetables has a better nutritional return than munching on Smartees, we know the answer: competitive colleges, which includes all colleges with less than a 50% admit rate, want to see rigor above all.

There are four big “on paper” factors that students can control: rigor, GPA, extracurriculars, and test scores (these last two are not set in 3rd and 4th place–the most competitive colleges receive a plethora of high test scores though they are officially “test-optional,” and some large state schools focus more on rigor, GPA, and test scores than an impressive extracurricular list).

That’s why I will generally recommend challenging yourself regarding rigor.

So should you take every AP course offered? Think of it this way: AP courses are like college courses, and you typically take no more than 4 or 5 courses per semester in college. Your schedule and activities are much more demanding in high school, so 4 or more AP courses are likely too many. Double up in an area of interest instead.

Are AP courses the right choice for everyone? Of course not. Approach rigor at your own level, meaning enriched courses for some, honors courses for others. The maximum number of AP courses offered is appropriate for some students. Contact me to learn what the colleges on your list want to see–there is no one answer to the rigor question.

What about overriding recommendations? Challenge yourself, but know the rules. Can you drop the course early on, or must you wait a whole marking period or semester first? Only override recommendations in your areas of strength!

Trust in your ability to rise above your limits while you trust in yourself to know what's best for you.


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