How to improve strength of high school curriculum

By Rajkamal Rao  

Image Courtesy: Texas Education Agency

Demonstrating that you took difficult courses in high school is important to college admissions officers. We will discuss several ways to do this and you will see that advance course planning, sometimes as early as the 8th grade, is critical.
The first step in the early grades (9th and 10th) is to sign up for Pre-AP® courses, also called as Advanced or Honors level classes. Pre-AP® courses are designed to give students the space and time they need to concentrate on essential topics and are dedicated to collaborative classroom experiences that allow students to engage, learn, and grow.

Another way to add difficult courses to the mix is to take AP courses which end in an AP exam. For a detailed look at why AP Courses are beneficial to students, see our post here
Working with your high school guidance counselor, you could stick to a district-recommended progression of courses as below. Look at Sequence 4.  In it, a student completes Geometry, Algebra and Pre-Calculus at the Pre-AP levels in the 9th, 10th and 11th grades respectively.  The student is now free to choose either AP Calculus or AP Statistics in the 12th grade.

Source: HEB ISD, Bedford, TX

There are two problems with this approach.  First, the College Board offers three AP Math courses but the above sequence leads to only one.  Second, the student will be taking the AP course in the 12th grade which is too late for the college application brag sheet.

To solve this problem, encourage your student to take one of the prerequisite courses, generally Geometry or Algebra-II, online, either during the 9th or 10th grade school year as an extra course or in the summer.  Or you could have your child self-study on Khan Academy and exempt out of the course by taking a CBE (Credit by Exam) during the last month of the year.  With either approach you won't get the Honors GPA bonus, so for students keen on keeping their weighted average GPAs high, this is a problem.  But if the child can take an extra AP course as a result of clearing up the schedule, this approach not only overcomes the loss of the GPA bonus but improves it.

In general, if you want to increase the number of AP courses, you should be prepared to take some AP courses on your own.  This is how you can optimize endorsements, AP courses and class selections related to your interests and careers in demand.

The following six AP courses are perfect for self-study.  They are more a test of memory and are narrowly focused, making them easier to self-study.  They build off of a student’s general knowledge and basic intellectual curiosity – so, they result in high return on investment.  And some (AP Environmental Science and AP Human Geography) have content which overlaps.

AP Environmental Science
AP European History
AP Human Geography
AP Psychology
AP US Government and Politics
AP Comparative Government and Politics

If you plan it right, you can take more than a dozen AP courses in your high school and join an elite group of students worldwide.  The percentage of students who took 10 AP exams or more doubled over the decade between 2005 and 2015, to 0.7 percent, or 16,580 students  [Source:  NY Times].

Source:  Rao Advisors

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