web analytics
Get Started
 Dec 31, 2021
From On-Level to AP: The Major Types of Core Classes

Navigating high school can certainly be overwhelming, and the abundance of available courses is just one reason why. From AP to IB to Honors to Dual Enrollment, the seemingly endless types of core classes offered are bound to make multiple heads scratch. In this blog, we’ll explain the differences between the major levels of core classes, as well as how to decide which level(s) is right for you. 

On-Level Courses

Most high schools offer On-Level or Regular courses that are designed to fulfill the learning objectives for students in a particular grade. Though these courses are generally the lowest-level core courses you can take, you’ll find that they’re a feasible option if you need to lighten your load while still meeting your graduation requirements.  

Pre-AP, Pre-IB, and Honors Courses

For students who want to challenge themselves beyond Regular courses, most schools also offer core classes that are one step above the standard high school level and one step below the college level. Depending on which school you attend, the names of these courses could be preceded by the words Pre-AP, Honors, or Pre-IB, among others. These courses arm students with the background knowledge and skills they will need if they take more advanced college-level courses in the future. For example, most students generally take Pre-AP or Honors English 1 and 2 before taking AP English Language and Composition. 

Depending on your school, it may be possible to jump directly from Regular courses to their AP or IB counterparts. Some schools even allow students to sign up for AP or IB courses without taking any prerequisite courses, such as taking AP Physics 1 without taking Pre-AP or Honors Physics. Though this may be a possibility for you, my experience has shown me that taking a less advanced version first often provides the much-needed fundamentals that would have been missing if I had directly taken the college-level course. With that being said, everyone is different, and it’s up to you to decide whether you’re ready to make the leap.

College Courses

If you would like to go even one step further than Pre-AP, Pre-IB, or Honors courses, then you should consider taking some of the college courses that your high school offers. These courses, as per the name, contain college-level material and may even provide college credit hours for students who achieve high class or exam scores. The three main types of college courses available to high schoolers are Dual Enrollment, Advanced Placement (AP), and International Baccalaureate (IB). Here are descriptions of each:

Dual Enrollment

Dual Enrollment courses (also called “Concurrent Enrollment” or “Dual Credit” courses) enable students to earn high school and college credits at the same time by being simultaneously enrolled in a local community college or four-year university. Unlike normal high school courses, you typically need to pay upwards of a few hundred dollars in order to take a Dual Enrollment course, and you’re usually taught by college professors in lieu of high school teachers. Through Dual Enrollment programs, some (but not all) U.S. colleges offer credit hours as long as you simply pass your classes. Dual Enrollment can be a viable option for you if your school’s program offers novel courses that cannot be found elsewhere, or if you want a taste of collegiate learning without having to worry about taking a nationally- or internationally-administered exam at the end of the school year.

Advanced Placement

Advanced Placement courses give students the opportunity to further their learning in various subjects, ranging from music theory to history. Aside from earning high school credits by passing their classes, students may also potentially earn college credits by passing the corresponding AP exams (with a minimum score of 3 out of 5) administered in May. Taking each exam costs slightly below $100, and different U.S. colleges have different credit policies with regards to if and how they offer credit hours. To learn more about the AP program, check out this blog.

International Baccalaureate

International Baccalaureate courses are similar to AP courses in that many colleges offer credit hours for passing IB exams. However, aside from enabling students to take individual IB courses, many schools also allow students to enroll in the IB Diploma Programme, in which students take IB courses in six major subject areas. To receive an IB diploma, students must earn at least 24 cumulative points on their six IB exams (each scored out of 7), write an extended research essay, AND complete a project relating to the IB program’s central themes, among other requirements. Due to the demanding nature of the IB Diploma Programme, many students prefer to take individual IB courses and their associated exams instead. And while a few colleges only grant credit to students who have earned the IB Diploma, most accept credits for individual exam scores as well. Visit the official IB website to learn more.

Given not only the diversity of high school courses but also the plenitude of course types that exist, the struggle to determine what classes you should take can be stressful, to say the least. As you continue to explore different courses throughout your time in high school, be sure to ask your counselor what core classes your school offers so that you can craft a schedule that is the right fit. In doing so, you can finally hit the sweet spot that you’ve been longing for – without feeling burnt out in the process.

Trisha Bhujle is a former Brilliant Prep student with the goal of answering your questions about high school, standardized tests, and everything in between. Having received a 36 on her ACT and a 1560 on her SAT, she now actively works to inform students and parents alike of how to prepare for not only these tests, but also other high school hurdles. In her spare time, she likes to experiment in her kitchen, conquer DIY projects, and most of all, write!