Not all high school courses are created equal. Not all grades are created equal, either.

And yet, at the start of the college application process, parents are always surprised to hear that great grades and good test scores may not be enough for their student to secure acceptance at competitive schools.

That’s because one important factor is often missing from parents’ assessment of their kids’ prospects: something we call course rigor.

Course rigor—or the strength of a student’s curriculum—refers to the kinds of classes a student chooses to take. AP, Honors, Regents, Accelerated, IB, and other demanding courses signal to colleges that students have sought out academic challenges and that they can excel in difficult coursework.

It’s never too early (or too late) for a student to strengthen their curriculum, and one of the most accessible ways to do that in high school is by taking AP classes.

Why Course Rigor Matters

There’s more to the college application process than grades and test scores, and taking all AP classes is no guarantee that a student will get into their dream school. But if your student has the ability to fit high-level classes into their curriculum, it’ll certainly raise admissions officers’ eyebrows.

Most competitive schools do have an academic threshold for acceptance. Even if they don’t openly reveal their GPA requirements, you can bet that admissions officers are looking to see certain accomplishments regarding a student’s grades, course rigor, and score range.

Let’s consider for a moment that two students with a 4.0 GPA from the same high school apply to a college. If one student took several AP courses during high school and the other student only took one, the first student will likely come across as a much stronger candidate.

So how should students go about adding AP classes to their curriculum?

Selecting AP Classes

The goal for students seeking admission to competitive colleges is to challenge themselves to the best of their ability based on what their high school offers.

If your student knows that they’d like to pursue an undergraduate writing degree at an elite liberal arts university, taking an AP English course is a smart idea. But even if your student has no idea what kind of degree or career path they want to pursue, that uncertainty shouldn’t hold them back from challenging themselves academically.

When in doubt, encourage your student to select an AP class in a subject that interests them. Their passion and excitement for the topic will inspire them to put their very best foot forward.

Importantly, don’t let your student feel restricted by what their high school offers in terms of AP classes. Resources like Pacific Preparatory provide great opportunities for students to customize 1:1 online courses that they wouldn't otherwise have access to.

Getting Support for AP Classes

Believe it or not, your student should begin lining up support for AP classes soon—even though the exam itself is months away. AP courses move at such a rapid pace that even the best students may find themselves falling behind, and they’ll need to get back on track as quickly as possible.

Even if students manage to earn a good grade in an AP class, there’s no guarantee they’ll perform well on the exam. The reality is that the curriculum taught at your student’s school may not perfectly mirror the curriculum of the exam itself. An experienced subject tutor can help your student absorb challenging material and gradually prepare for an AP exam at the same time.

Want to make sure your student’s hard work pays off this year? Contact Signet today to learn more about subject tutoring for AP classes.