I get asked the following question often: “Should I take AP or IB classes offered at the high school or should I take classes at the community college while I’m still in high school?” In Washington state, we call these community college classes “running start.” (AP = Advanced Placement. IB = International Baccalaureate)
My answer: where you take the class is less important than WHAT class you take. You can attend a community college and take classes like PE, business math, automotive tech. If you plan to go into a technical college, then these classes are okay (though personally I feel every student benefits with math at least through Algebra II and learning another language). However, if your goal is to get into a 4-year college, then you’ll want to stick to English, math, history, foreign language, and science at the community college – especially math, science and foreign language.
All colleges value students who go above and beyond the minimum high school requirements. So if you’re taking an AP or IB Calculus class or Calculus in the community college, that’s excellent; you’re taking Calculus! Same thing if you are taking a fourth or fifth year of Spanish (or any language) at the AP/IB level or at a community college – the level of the class is the same.
AP/IB are “regulated” classes, that is, they have a set curriculum that is standard for all schools who offer it. Community College classes can teach a variety of topics in their English 101 classes, for example. In that way, some 4-year colleges prefer those top level high school classes.
To make the right decision for you – consider what classes will challenge you the most as you prepare for college. Then consider the environment where you will thrive. Do you like the structure of high school and the consistency of continuing your education there in the best classes? Does your high school offer AP or IB classes?
Or do you chafe a bit under the rules of high school? (Colleges have rules, too!) But maybe a little more freedom in your schedule, classes that teach more information and sometimes much faster (if you go from the semester system in high school to a quarter system at a community college, you’ll move much faster through your studies) would really help you blossom.
You don’t have to figure which classes to take all on your own. Ask your guidance counselors for advice. Talk with your parents. Ask students who are taking community college classes about their experiences. Ask the students in the AP/IB classes what their experiences have been like. And don’t hesitate to ask college admissions counselors how they look at transcripts and what classes they like to see prospective students’ transcripts. Gather information and then you’ll make a well informed decision.
Choose well, challenge yourself in class, and enjoy learning!
Zinjenzo – The College Application Guru