Honors and Advanced Placement (AP) courses on a high school transcript tell an admissions committee that you are serious about your academics and unafraid of a challenge.
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They show that you are unwilling to take the easy route, that you are ready for university-level education, and that you are capable of handling more than some of your peers. The courses also help students develop study habits, refine their interests, and build critical thinking skills.
What are Honors courses?
Honors classes are essentially meant for students demonstrating higher academic performance. They are an accelerated version of standard-level courses, moving at a faster pace, offering more of a challenge, and covering much more material at a greater depth.
Students typically need a recommendation from their teacher to enter an Honours level course, or proof of maintaining a satisfactory grade in the previous course. While they are not always considered to be “college prep” levels like AP courses, they do offer a certain level of preparation that a standard course cannot. This is largely due to the fact that the course load and pace of the curriculum mirror what is typical of a university. Honors courses are structured based on teacher/department preference and city. In some cases, successful completion of an Honors course can result in exemption from “entry-level” university courses, but not always.
What are Advanced Placement courses?
AP courses are not meant for everyone because like the Honors-level courses, they are much more rigorous than the standard level. However, not all AP curriculums are created equal. They can vary based on teacher, the school’s area and the overall school performance. In one district, an AP course will be extremely difficult and in another it will not be challenging enough. This can be said for schools in general, though, which largely explains why parents try to place their children in the best programs.
That said, an AP-level curriculum is quite specific as compared to Honors programs. While Honors courses offer a bit more variety, AP topics are pre-determined by the College Board, regardless of the area. This is to ensure that all students who partake in these prep courses learn the same content and enter university on a more even playing field. They are intended to prepare students for the type of work to come as well as identify collegiate expectations.
AP courses are a gold mine for higher-achieving students that are university-bound. This is because they offer the opportunity to apply the course to your university credits. However, you don’t just get said credits for enrolling in the course, you must perform well on the AP exam. Some universities require that students earn a score of 3 out of 5 on the AP exam to be granted the credits, but most schools – particularly the more elite – require a 4.
What are Advanced Placement Exams?
AP exams are not taken throughout the school year, in your high school classroom, with your peers and teacher. Because it is a standardized test, they are taken at the end of a year-long AP course on the same day in May by students around the world. They are most often 2-3 hours long, and will typically be proctored by someone that was not your teacher.
They consist of multiple-choice and most often, free-response questions (can be an essay, a problem or even verbal). The exam is intended to demonstrate if and how well you have mastered the course material, and if you are able to apply them to complex and often real-world situations. It is meant to imitate the style of testing most students will experience in university. Each exam is created by the College Board and is not required by universities like the SAT or ACT, but they do help bolster an application.
How can Honors and AP courses help you get a bursary?
There is no question that bursary committees value academic successes; in fact, they often look for the same things that university admissions committees do. It’s one thing to get great grades in regular courses while balancing extracurricular activities and perhaps a part-time job. It’s another thing to pass AP or Honors courses with great grades while balancing said activities.
As mentioned, these courses are meant to be more difficult than what the average student takes; they’re university prep courses, meaning, they function much like real university courses. Performing well in such a class is an excellent way to show bursary committees that you are ready and able to do the same at a university level. Bursaries are not often given to students who just did what they were supposed to do, performing at an average level… they are given to students that went above and beyond, with a proven track record of successes, academic achievements and abilities.
Should you take an AP or Honors course?
If you can handle the course load, absolutely. A quality education far outweighs great grades in easy courses. But, don’t bite off more than you can chew. The accelerated programs are extremely beneficial for university and bursary applications, but if you take on too many and become overwhelmed, the chances of your grades suffering increases. In that case, you would be better off taking one or two Honors or AP courses so you can maintain a proper balance and perform well across the board. This is especially so if you are active in extracurricular activities, which take away valuable school work time.
In short, Honors and Advanced Placement courses are highly beneficial for anyone intending to attend university. It is better to be over-prepared than under-prepared, especially if you are in need of a challenge.