Honors vs. AP Classes: What’s the Difference?

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  • Honors and AP classes can help prepare you for college in different ways.
  • Honors classes are more rigorous than regular courses and can boost your GPA.
  • AP classes offer college-level work and can lead to a GPA boost and college credit.
  • The choice between taking AP vs. honors courses comes down to your college goals.

The college admissions process has become increasingly competitive and challenging. To improve your chances of getting into a top school, you can take Advanced Placement (AP) and/or honors classes. However, make sure you understand the differences between these two types of courses before choosing your classes.

High school students can prepare for college in many ways, but honors and AP classes offer learners different opportunities and potential outcomes. In this guide, we explore those differences and help you choose between honors vs. AP classes.

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What Are Honors Classes in High School?

Honors classes cover the same or similar material as regular classes but provide more depth and insight into the subjects at hand. More challenging content means studying takes more time, projects require more work, and tests are more challenging.

As a result, honors students can develop better study habits and more effective test-taking skills. Fast-paced and interactive honors classes can also simulate a college classroom better than regular classes.

What Are AP Classes in High School?

AP classes introduce high school learners to rigorous college-level training. Unlike honors classes, AP courses can also provide college credit if students earn sufficiently high scores on the corresponding AP exams. Additionally, these classes can help you bypass certain admission requirements and gain entry into elite colleges across the country.

AP classes run throughout the year, require a considerable amount of after-school studying, and conclude with examinations. AP exams are scored on a scale of 1-5, with scores of 3 and above considered passing grades. Colleges sometimes count scores of 3 and above for college credit, although the most prestigious schools may only consider scores of 4 or 5.

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What Are the Differences Between Honors and AP Classes?

Knowing the difference between AP vs. honors courses can save you time and money in college. Read on to understand how these two class types differ.

Ability to Earn College Credit

Both AP and honors classes can make your college applications more competitive, but AP exams offer an additional bonus: the potential to earn college credit. Passing an AP exam with a score of 3 or above can lead to college credit in various majors at different schools.

AP classes also tend to be more challenging than honors classes. For AP classes, you should have the ability to manage difficult coursework while preparing for AP exams.

Curriculum and Length

Honors classes typically follow a teacher-designed curriculum throughout one semester. These courses usually cover more material than regular classes and provide a more thorough exploration into various topics.

Conversely, AP courses follow the College Board curriculum over the course of 1-2 semesters. AP exams take place in May or June every year, meaning you need to maintain healthy study habits to ensure you retain older information on exam day.

Difficulty Level

Both honors and AP classes can present challenges for students. Honors classes require learners to complete more work than regular courses, and AP classes can be even more demanding. While honors classes feature advanced high school coursework, AP classes are designed to mirror college-level coursework.

In both honors and AP classes, difficulty level varies by subject. Some of the hardest AP courses and exams include AP Physics 1, AP World History, and AP English Literature.

Class Availability

Since honors classes are usually offered at every grade level in high school, they may be more readily available than AP classes.

AP courses typically only offer one level and enroll students in grades 10-12. This can make them more difficult to access, particularly in the case of yearlong classes.

Also, keep in mind that you do not need to take an AP class to sit for an AP exam — you can study the material on your own if you feel capable, although this is quite challenging for many students.

GPA Weight

At many high schools, honors and AP classes both offer more heavily weighted training compared to regular classes. While honors courses usually add 0.5 points to your GPA, AP classes often add 1 point. In other words, a 3.5 GPA would be boosted to a 4.0 in an honors class and a 4.5 in an AP class.

This boost can prove particularly useful if you want to challenge yourself with more difficult training without punishing your GPA. If you choose to take an AP exam without the AP class, however, you will not boost your GPA.

Honors vs. AP Classes: Which Is Right for You?

To choose between honors and AP classes, think about your educational goals. While you may need to take several AP classes to qualify for certain prestigious schools, taking too many can be overwhelming and may do more harm than good.

If you're seeking college credit, you may want to select AP classes only in your strongest subjects while taking honors or regular classes in other areas. If you're pursuing highly selective colleges, you should consider taking many AP and honors classes so you can boost your GPA.

Frequently Asked Questions About Honors vs. AP Classes

Do colleges prefer AP or honors classes?

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Many state colleges like to see applicants with honors classes, as it shows commitment and determination. The country's most prestigious schools, such as Ivy League institutions, usually prefer AP classes on transcripts. These standardized courses can help schools compare applicants more directly.

Do honors classes boost your GPA?

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Yes. Honors classes often boost your GPA by 0.5 points. Finishing with a 3.5 GPA in an honors course could equate to a 4.0 GPA in a regular course.

Do colleges care about honors classes?

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Yes. Honors classes can demonstrate to colleges that a student has strong academic interests and high academic achievement.

Are honors classes considered lower than AP?

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In a way, yes. AP classes typically have a higher GPA weight because of their difficulty, and they may cover more challenging material. Since AP classes provide college-level coursework, schools may value them more than honors courses. Nevertheless, honors classes still carry a great deal of weight during the admissions process.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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