Which Matters More – High Grades or Challenging Courses?

Which Matters More – High Grades or Challenging Courses?

This is the time of year many students are getting ready to select high school classes for the following school year. With that in mind, I am re-publishing a blog I wrote about the how and why behind choosing high school classes with an eye to future college admission.


Teens today are usually in a quandary when deciding what courses to take during high school to enhance their college applications. Are high grades or challenging courses more important?  Should the student go for the “easy” A or take the tough AP course? Should s/he take a college course while still in high school? Most high school students who are planning to go to a selective college have asked themselves these questions. There are no easy answers but I will give you some points to consider before making your decision.

First, it’s important to note that a student’s high school record is the most important part of the college application. Standardized test scores, extracurricular activities, the application essays and letters of recommendation all matter, but the high school transcript almost always carries the most weight. No other piece of the application will make up for a weak transcript.

Colleges want to see two things on a student’s transcript: high grades and challenging courses. Which matters most? For highly selective colleges like Harvard, Stanford, and the University of Chicago, both. It’s nearly impossible for a student to get into one of the top colleges or top universities without straight “A”s and tough courses.

Students who are determined to gain admission into a highly selective college can’t think in terms of high grades or challenging courses. They need to earn high grades in the most challenging courses available. An “A” in gym or woodworking isn’t going to impress a top college, nor is a “C” in AP Calculus.

For highly selective colleges, the best advice is to take the most challenging courses available and put in the extra effort to earn a high grade. Realize, also, that there are other benefits to taking AP courses. An AP course offers an opportunity to take a college level class in high school. If the student passes the AP test with a score of four or higher, many (but not all) universities will accept that grade in lieu of a similar class once enrolled. That saves both time and money as your teen works towards his/her undergraduate degree.

It is also advantageous to enroll in college courses while in high school.  If your teen’s high school offers an opportunity to take college classes on its campus, taught by a college professor, your teen should take advantage of it. S/he will earn high school credit for the course and it will be listed on his/her college applications as taking a college level course while in high school.

Another option is for your teen to enroll in a pre-college summer program offered at many colleges in the United States. This option is a great way for your teen to explore subjects of interest, experience a new city and determine if the college s/he is attending is a “good fit” before application season begins.

It is important to realize that students don’t need to get straight “A”s in tough courses to get into 99% of the colleges in this country. Your teen should take courses that will challenge him/her and ones where s/he can earn a good grade. A high school transcript should be peppered with AP courses, but only if your teen is able to handle the workload. If an AP course is too challenging, do not think your teen must take it in order to get in to a quality college. In general, a few “B”s or even a “C” won’t destroy your teen’s chances of getting into college.

If you have any other questions about selecting a college, or the admissions process, feel free to contact me through my website at www.Prep4collegeNow.com or call me at 760.877.7200. I’d love to answer your questions!

Andrea K. Frimmer. M. Ed.

Prep 4 College Now, Inc.


Related Video for Freshman/Choosing Classes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_a42QbzZq2U

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