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What are the Differences Between AP and Honors Classes?

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What’s the difference between AP and honors courses?

The princess didn’t find honors under her mattress! Get it?! Hah!

Pretty lame joke, I know… However, this is a question with which many people seriously struggle!

  • Should my son or daughter take AP or honors courses?
  • Which are harder?
  • Which look better for college admissions?
  • Are AP and honors courses even that different from one another?

AP and honors courses are, in fact, very different from one another.

Both are great ways to challenge your teen and both look awesome on college applications, but there are a few important distinctions you should be aware of before deciding to enroll your child in one or the other.

The Differences between AP and Honors classes

The main difference between the two has to do with college credit. Basically, if you enroll your teen in an AP course, they have the chance to receive college credit. However, if your teen enrolls in an honors course they will have no such chance.

Sounds like a sweet deal, right?

Take a high school course, AND receive college credit? — Why doesn’t everyone do that?

Well, it’s not that simple.

In order to receive college credit for an AP course, your teen must study for the AP exam, and receive a score of 3 or higher (out of 5). However, most colleges require a score of at least 4.

AP scores

If your child is willing to put in the extra effort and study for the AP exam, then by all means, they should go for it!

But if your child is too busy or just not into it, maybe honors courses are the way to go, especially if the AP courses offered at their high school are particularly tricky.

That brings us to the next big question!

Which is more rigorous?

Ehhh….there’s really no straightforward answer here.

The level of rigor for both AP and honors courses varies by school and by state. At many schools, AP courses are much more difficult than honors courses, while at other schools the exact opposite is true.

Why does the rigor vary so greatly?

There are a lot of reasons.

For starters, some teachers are just harder than others. You know what I’m talking about. We’ve all had those teachers who give a billion times more work than every teacher we’ve ever had combined.  Then there those teachers who are ridiculously easy…

easy hard ap

Also, some schools are just generally less challenging than others!

Factors in Easy vs. Hard AP Classes

  • The area
  • Students attending the school
  • Faculty

Depending on these things, a school might either be extremely competitive, or painfully easy. As a result, AP courses at schools are often less challenging than honors courses at other schools.

Before you decide between AP and honors courses, be sure to do some digging. Figure out how the AP teachers at your teen’s school differ from its honors teachers, and how their school compares to other schools.

Differences in what’s actually taught

While the curricula (a fancy word for what’s taught in the class) of AP and honors courses do often overlap, there are some important differences of which you should take note.

Who Determines AP Curricula?

  • CollegeBoard. (This means that AP teachers across the country cover the same exact topics in their classrooms.)

Who Determines Honors Curricula?

  • State government officials
  • Department heads
  • Honors teachers themselves

So…what’s your takeaway?

Well, at many schools, it can mean that the curricula of AP courses are occasionally very dry, because teachers don’t have a lot of power to choose what they teach, and are sometimes uninterested in the topics they’re being forced to cover.

When teachers are allowed to pick and choose what they really want to cover, as many honors teachers are, they get to teach topics they’re actually passionate about and want to teach, rather than being forced to teach topics they’re not super passionate about, or with which they are unfamiliar.

Eligibility/Requirements

Honors classes are pretty challenging, right?

So it only makes sense that there would be some sort of requirement or prerequisite to be able to enroll in them.

For most schools, this takes the form of some sort of placement test. Many high schools also enroll teens in honors courses on the basis of teacher recommendation.

course requirements

Since AP courses are pretty comparable to honors courses in terms of difficulty and workload, you’ve probably guessed that AP courses also have some sort of placement test.

Well, guess again!

Actually, CollegeBoard’s AP policy states that no school can deny any student the opportunity of taking an AP course, as this puts those students at a disadvantage—they cannot take AP tests, and have no chance of receiving college credit in high school.

If your teen doesn’t test well or is, for whatever reason, unable to take their high school’s honors placement exam, perhaps AP courses are the way to go!

Which is better for College admissions?

Well, honestly…there’s no clear answer to this question either!

It all depends on the college your child wishes to attend.

ap honors where to go

Why is the school and location of my child’s college important?

I’ll explain.

AP Courses

These are more widely recognized as rigorous.

Even if your teen’s high school’s honors US history course is more rigorous than its AP US History course, Harvard would have no way of knowing that, and would assume the opposite!

Honors Courses

State universities typically regard honors courses taken in their states as just as rigorous as AP courses.

Why? State universities are usually well aware of the requirements that honors high school teachers must meet in their state.

Your next move?

Talk to your child about what colleges they might be interested in attending! Do some research on the websites of the colleges and find out whether they prefer honors or AP courses.

Conclusion

Deciding between AP and honors courses can be tough, especially when there are so many things to consider, like rigor, workload, and college admissions, but don’t stress!

At the end of the day, this decision probably isn’t going to significantly impact the long-term life of your teen, and they really can’t go wrong with either. I’m sure your teen will succeed, no matter which path they choose!

Know anyone who’s made the choice between Honors and AP? — What did they choose and why? Tell us about it in the comments below!

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Todd VanDuzer

Co-Founder & CEO at Student-Tutor
Hello! My name is Todd. I help students eliminate academic stress, boost confidence, and reach their wildest dreams through college tips and digital age knowledge they are not teaching in school. I am a former tutor for seven years, $85,000 scholarship recipient, Huffington Post contributor, lead SAT & ACT course developer, and have worked with thousands of students and parents to ensure a brighter future for the next generation. Currently, I am traveling across America delivering presentations, rock climbing, adventuring, and helping inspire the leaders of tomorrow. Let's become friends! Follow my journey via my YouTube Vlog for inspirational value added tips!

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Jake
Guest

I am currently a freshman in high school. Out of the four major subjects, (Math,English,Science,History) I am taking all but one honors classes. I would like to go to a good school in my state (MA). When entering college will these honors classes do more harm than good? ( in other words, is it worth taking these harder honors classes?)

*note: ap classes are not offered in 9th grade but i do plan on taking a couple

Meg
Guest

I’m taking 2 aps and 2 honors junior year in a competitive school (calc bc,ap lit, french 4 honors, physics h)- Many people I know are taking 3-4 aps + 1 honor, and I am a bit worried. Aiming for high tier- UCs… Is this schedule okay?

Kenn Douglass
Guest

Hi, My name is Jade and im entering a new highschool and im wondering if i should move on to Ap

Mike Phil
Guest

Hello, I am starting to make my classes entering freshman year but would like to know how I should plan my classes so that I could be able to pass Highschool and head off to College or University. What are the requirements to pass HighSchool. What classes should I take during all my years in HighSchool?

Blessings
Guest

Hi, what is the advantage of going to an Ivy league college over a non-ivy league college?
After college, will employers prefer ivy league graduates?
what do l loose if l don’t get into an ivy league college?

Mike Phil
Guest

What is the difference between French Honors 1 and French 1 entering 9th grade?

Azi Meera
Guest

Hi, I live in NJ and really would like to go to Rutgers University which is in-state do honors classes count more?

Lee
Guest

Do you have any idea what the difference between college courses and AP course are? My school offers AP Calculus but also offers a college course called Math 150 which is similar to it? how do colleges look at college courses?

Sam Chowdhury
Guest

He is also in Hon PRECAL (Most recent score 98).

connor wills
Guest
As of right now, I take one AP class as a freshmen which is Environmental Science, I have a 92 in the class as of right now and its not an easy class due to many people with 44’s. I plan on taking as many AP classes as possible that are still reasonable with my interest. I play lacrosse and have played for awhile now, and may begin football next year. If I continue with the AP classes (I don’t believe my school has honors), and lacrosse do you believe this will allow me to go the Naval Academy? (I… Read more »
Kristopher Jones
Guest

Hello I’m a freshman from Middle Eastern Ohio. I have a 3.8 GPA and I plan on attending Texas A&M for a degree in Biology or Environmental Sciences so I can become an Ohio Park Ranger. Would this be possible if I continue my current grade levels?

Stephanie
Guest

Hello, I would like to know more information as a senior in highschool. I am taking honors courses and one AP my gpa is below a 3.5. WIll my gpa increase by the end of my senior year? I am trying to attain a good gpa because of the in state college I want to attend. Also how important are SAT AND ACT scores for colleges??

Farushe
Guest
Hello, my name is Farushe. Soon I’m about to be a Freshman.I live in New York and two years ago I moved in America so I was in 7th grade. I had a really tough time, I didn’t speak the language, I didn’t had anybody to ask for help,I was shy to ask my teachers for help and along with the stress I had, it seemed like I couldn’t believe in my self . It was so hard to understand my teachers and I was confused all the times. I didn’t even understood what the topic’s were about. I’m my… Read more »
Mery Garcia
Guest

Hello! In about 7 days I will start my Freshman year. I have 2 honor classes and 1 AP Psychology. From what I’ve read, AP and honor classes may give loads of work. I’m not very used to receiving so much work because my teachers never really did give as much.

Any advice on how to stay caught up and study?

Janet
Guest
My daughter is most defenitly not an A/B student. She tries but just doesn’t quite get there. I don’t hold it against her because i see how much she tries. She has a mild learning disability and struggles in school. she is in inclussion classes and is given extra help and time to do her work or take tests. She has never taken a honors or advance class. She is going into the 11th grade and her class schedule was just recieved today, she was placed in an Honors US history class. I was under the impression that to be… Read more »
Lamise
Guest

So what if we took both honors and AP classes?

Laura
Guest
My son is going into 9th grade and was denied access to honors courses in his Florida HS because he didn’t meet their minimum requirements (95% or higher in regular 8th grade classes). This puts him at a disadvantage when it comes to college admittance and I believe it is wrong for the school to deny him access. He received A’s and B’s in 8th grade and is in the gifted program. He is perfectly capable of handing honors courses. I even signed a waiver from the HS and wrote a letter, but he was still denied. Do I have… Read more »
Pat
Guest

Wow that’s crazy I’m in orlandos edgewater and I had hard time in 7 and skipped 8 and got algebra marine science and English hon I’m also in 9 try switching schools

Laura Petersen
Member
Hello Laura, That is so frustrating. I would be feeling the same way as you are and taking the steps I could to get him in. In terms of advice, we do not have anything ‘official’ to add to what you are doing because our expertise is not in these types of issues with administration and it sounds like you are doing all the steps needed! Having taught in a high school in Arizona myself, I have experience with schools in Arizona, but not Florida, and I am sure each district is also different. So it makes it tough to… Read more »
Maritza
Guest

OMG!!!! I am very sorry to hear that.

Erin Kim
Guest
I am an incoming sophomore at a new highschool, and I was just wondering about the classes that I should take. In 9th grade at my previous school, I took: 1st semester 2nd semester World History A A- Geometry A A+ Art Appreciation A+ A+ PE and Health A+ A+ Biology A A Freshman English A A Korean 4 A+ A+ Now for my sophomore year, I am having trouble choosing my classes. I think that it would look good when applying to colleges if I take all Honors in Algebra 2, US History, Chemistry, and English. But the thing… Read more »
Tina
Guest
Hello, I’m going to be a sophomore next year. This school year, I took one AP class (only one is available to freshmen), and I plan on taking AP US History 10, AP Computer Science, and AP Chemistry next year (I plan on taking a lot more during my junior and senior years too!). However, I recently moved to a new district and the new district only offers Honors classes rather than AP. I have the choice of going to the school in the new district or continue in my old district. I’m a little bit of an over-achiever and… Read more »
Tina
Guest

That’s alright with me! Send me an email whenever.

Shayan
Guest

Hello,
This year I took all regular classes and I got a 4.0. Next year I am thinking about taking four honors classes, but I’m not sure what to do. What do you think I should do?

Jacob
Guest
Hi, my name is Jake and I am currently a sophomore in high school. Freshman year I started off bad because I was busy breaking bad habits and struggled. I ended freshman year with a 3.64 or something, 4 B’s the whole year. 3 first semester, and 1 last semester in Advanced Spanish (I’m ahead). At the end of the year when I got the hang of it I finished Spanish with an 89 and that was my only B. This year I am in 3 honors, an extra math class to get ahead, and Spanish 3. I am currently… Read more »
Derek Johnson
Guest

I am currently a sophomore in high school and I am taking one honors and one AP course. I got one B last year in an accelerated biology course which was extremely challenging. Other than that, I haven’t gotten any B’s and got all A’s this first semester with a weighted GPA of 4.28. Do you have any tips for things that I can do in order to increase the chance that I have to get into a good college? Thank you and great article.

Cheryl
Guest

Our daughter is getting ready to register for high school at Reynolds high school. We are in Asheville North Carolina. She wants to take honor classes in English math, science and social studies. These were recommended and she wants to. She also is involved in volleyball, basketball, soccer and softball. We are more exhausted than her 🙂 she wants to be a veterinarian or an attorney. We want to guide her in the right way. Any advise will help. Thank you

Leila Hardy
Guest

I’m in middle school about to go to high school. I really want to get into an Ivy League and I have Stanford, Harvard, and Princeton in mind. I have always been on honor roll and work really hard & do track & field, cross country, cheer, and ANY AND EVERY club possible. I live in North Carolina and also excel in math. I want to be a neurosurgeon. Which courses would you recommend that are probably best for me?? Thank you

oi
Guest

look at this dude! you need super honor roll for all of that. Extracurricular activities may help you but not so much.

mrs. Tom
Guest

we r recent immigrants from India and our kids did well in their first sem (all in 98 and 99). The teachers recommend them for honors class. which option is better for them an AP or honors. they r in 10th grade now

Bridgetta
Guest

My son attends a Magnet School, and he is all honors classes and gifted American civics, and he is only in the 9th. He entered high school with 3.5 credits. Thanks for the break down, because I really want him to excel.

Padmaja
Guest

Super link. Very good info. Thank you so much

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