How and Why to Take Advanced High School Classes

Advanced Placement (AP) Program

Taking challenging classes in high school is a great way to build new skills. And it will serve you well when you get to college because you'll be more prepared for the work. In a recent survey of first-year college students, more than half of the students surveyed said they wished they had worked harder in high school.

Challenging classes, such as honors and college-level courses, also help you get into college. They are exactly what admissions officers like to see on applications.

There are other good reasons to switch classes in high school to honors and college-level courses. In the survey mentioned above, most students who took college-level courses as part of the Advanced Placement® or International Baccalaureate programs said that these classes were more worthwhile and interesting than others.

Experience a Different Approach

Honors and college-level courses differ from regular classes in various ways. Here’s a brief overview of some of the classes that may be available to you:

  • Honors classes usually cover similar material as regular classes but at a faster pace or more deeply than regular classes
  • College Board's AP Program offers college-level classes that help students develop and apply skills, such as reading critically, solving problems analytically, and writing clearly. More than 30 classes are available.
  • The IB program offers college-level classes that stress developing your thinking skills and an awareness of global issues.
  • College courses may be available for you to take while still in high school, either at your school or on a college campus.

Find Your Passion

Courses like these can introduce you to topics and ideas not covered in the regular classroom. For example, AP courses include Chinese Language and Culture, Environmental Science, and Psychology. This range of subjects allows you to explore your interests and develop new passions. You may even discover the subject that will become your college major or the focus of your career.

Build Important Skills

Honors and college-level courses can help you learn the skills and habits you'll need for success in college and beyond. They’ll allow you to develop:

  • Stronger writing skills
  • Problem-solving abilities
  • Time-management skills
  • Discipline
  • Good study habits

Prepare for College

Showing that you're willing to push yourself by taking rigorous classes in high school can help when you're applying to college. The level of courses you take now is one of the first things colleges look at.

In addition, college courses, IB classes and exams, and AP Exams may lead to college credit, advanced placement, or both in college. This means you may be able to skip some basic college courses and move directly into interesting, advanced classes. This also may allow you to free up enough time to pursue a double major or study abroad.

Take the Plunge

Once you decide to challenge yourself with honors or college-level courses, talk with your school counselor, teacher, or principal. They can help you get information about a course's workload, any preparation you might need, and how to sign up for this type of class.


Are challenging high school classes, such as honors classes, the same as AP?

Challenging classes, such as honors classes, and Advanced Placement (AP) classes are different. Honors classes are high school courses that are more rigorous than standard courses, but they don't offer college credit. An honors class gives students more in-depth knowledge of a specific subject

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What does “challenging” or “advanced” mean in high school?

Advanced or challenging high school courses typically cover more material and require more independent work than standard courses. Students in advanced classes are expected to read, write, and think at a higher level. These courses may also have higher expectations for participation and require engagement in classroom discussions and group projects.

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Is it worth it to take advanced classes in high school?

Taking advanced classes in high school can provide numerous benefits for students. Advanced classes, such as honors classes, college-level classes like AP or IB, or classes taken at a college, prepare students for college coursework, may earn you college credit, and demonstrate academic ability. Some high schools might also provide additional “weight’ to your GPA for advanced classes. Learn more about how to calculate your GPA.

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What’s considered an advanced class?

An advanced class, such as an honors or college-level class, requires more effort than standard or regular courses in the same subject. These courses are designed to provide students with a fuller understanding of the subject matter. They also provide the opportunity to develop critical thinking, problem-solving, and analytical skills. The specific requirements and expectations for honors and college-level classes can vary depending on the school or district.

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Which is harder, AP or honors?

AP classes are typically considered more challenging than honors classes. AP courses require students to learn and apply advanced concepts and skills as they engage in college-level coursework. On the other hand, honors classes in high school are advanced courses within a specific subject designed to provide students with a more in-depth understanding of the material.

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