The decision to drop an AP, IB, or honors class is a complex one. There’s no doubt that a high school transcript showing success in rigorous coursework is a necessity for acceptance at the nation’s top schools, so it comes as no surprise that some students load up on AP, IB, and honors classes to meet this high standard. But what if you suddenly find yourself in over your head? What if one of your courses is too rigorous or too demanding? What if you simply don’t find it very interesting? Are there any options available to you, or do you just have to grin and bear it?

The good news is that in most cases, you can indeed drop one of your harder courses. The bad news is that it may come at a price, and the decision should be considered carefully from several different angles.

If you’re trying to decide if you should drop an AP, IB, or Honors Class, you’ll need to consider the greater context of your college applications. To do that, make sure you ask yourself these five questions first.

1. How will it affect your GPA?

In order to consider the effect of a class on your GPA, you’ll need to know how your school weighs higher-level classes. For example, an honors class may be graded on a scale to 4.5, while IB or AP classes may be graded on a scale to 5.0. Make sure to check what scale your classes are graded on before you consider dropping a higher-level course. You’ll need to know its weight before you can consider its effect on your GPA.

Once you know how the class is weighted, you will need to decide how much your GPA is likely to suffer if you continue with the course. If you are worried about getting an A-, it’s probably best to stick with the class; an A- on your transcript, even if your school assigns fewer grade points to an A- than an A, is not a huge deal. On the other hand, if you are at risk of getting a C, you’re definitely better off dropping it, especially if you think you will be able to get an A in a normal class.

Risking a B in a weighted class may or may not be worth it, depending on the rest of your grades. If you are taking other high level classes and doing well in them, they may boost your GPA enough that a B in one course isn’t a huge deal.

Talk with the teacher before you make any decisions. Express your concern that you are not performing well and that the grade will adversely affect your transcript. Your teacher may offer opportunities to raise your grade through tutoring or extra credit.

Bottom line: You should consider dropping a class if it will have an adverse effect on your GPA, but first talk with your teacher about your concerns and discuss ways in which you might be able to raise your grade.  

2. Have you dropped other classes?

In some cases, usually if you drop your class relatively late into the grading period, a dropped class will appear on your transcript as a ‘W’ for withdrawn. College admissions committees will indeed see this and know that you chose to drop the class. One or sometimes even two dropped classes won’t be a huge deal, but more than two will certainly raise some questions. If you drop more than a couple of classes, the admissions committee might think that you are not up to the challenge of difficult work, or that you frequently get yourself in over your head by committing to things that you can’t finish.

If you have already dropped a few classes, it is probably best not to drop any more. Even if you get a less than desirable grade, at least you will be showing the admissions committee that you follow through on your commitments. Remember, a single grade that is out of character with the rest of your application can always be explained in an essay question or in the additional information section of your application. If you can explain extenuating circumstances of one grade below your typical average, you might not be penalized, at least in a significant way, for it overall.

At some schools, dropped classes do not show up on your transcript at all if you drop them within the predetermined add/drop period. This is definitely something to keep in mind early in the semester when you first experience the rigor of your coursework. Check with your registrar to find out how dropped classes appear before you make a final decision.

Bottom line: Dropping too many classes might indicate to admissions committees that you have trouble following through or are not up to the challenge of higher level courses. Before you drop an AP, IB or honors class, make sure you consider how, and if, it will appear on your transcript.  

3. Do you need this class for your school’s requirements?

There are some cases in which dropping a higher-level class may not even be possible. Most high schools require that you take 4 years of each core subject in order to graduate. If you want to drop AP Literature but cannot replace it with a normal class in the same subject area, you might not meet your school’s graduation requirements. Obviously, dropping a class at the cost of an extra semester of high school would be a very poor decision.

Additionally, some classes might be prerequisites to continue with higher-level courses in the future. For example, your school might require you to take Honors English as a freshman or sophomore before moving on to AP Writing. Dropping an honors class as a freshman or sophomore could mean that you are not eligible for AP or IB coursework further down the line. You will need to thoroughly research your school’s requirements and prerequisites to make sure that you aren’t closing any doors for yourself by dropping an AP, IB or honors class early in your high school career.

Bottom line: Before dropping a higher level class, make sure that you will still be able to meet all of your school’s graduation requirements and prerequisites for your intended course of study in the future. Read course catalogues, check at the registrar, or meet with a guidance counselor to make sure you know all the repercussions of dropping any specific class.     

4. What kind of colleges and universities do you want to attend?

Ultimately, dropping a higher-level course may have no bearing on your college application if you are not applying to the most competitive colleges and universities. There are many great colleges that don’t require you to have a near-perfect GPA in the most demanding coursework in order to be accepted, and if you are interested in attending these schools, it is often no big deal to drop an AP class in favor of a normal class. Keep in mind, though, that this isn’t a free ticket to perform below your ability. You will still need to work hard in all of your classes to maintain a competitive GPA for any school.

If you aren’t sure about the standards of your target schools, make sure to look them up. A simply online search with the school name and the term “average GPA for admission” will usually reveal exactly what you’re looking for.

Bottom line: If you are not typically an AP/IB student and are not applying to the most competitive schools, getting a poor grade in a higher level class is not typically worth the dent on your GPA or the stress caused by meeting its rigorous demands.     

5. Do you want to pursue college credit for your high school AP courses?

Another important consideration for dropping an AP class might also be why you signed up for it in the first place. Remember that if you can perform well enough on the AP exam (by scoring a 3 or higher), you can sometimes receive college credit for the class. This can save you precious time and money when registering for college courses, and enough AP credits could even allow you to graduate from college early. But make sure to look into the requirements at your target schools before making a decision based on college credit alone. Some schools might require higher scores in order for you to receive credit, and some might not offer credit at all. For more information about how AP coursework can work to your advantage in college, check out our guide here.

If you plan to pursue college credit for your high school AP classes, you might choose to continue with them despite a lower than average grade at the end. It could be worth a slightly lower than average grade if you think you will be able to pull off a solid performance on the AP test at the end of the semester, though you will need to make sure that your target schools will accept your scores.

Bottom line: College credit for AP classes isn’t guaranteed and will ultimately depend on the specific college you attend and the score you receive on the AP exam. If you know that your target schools will accept your scores for credit and you’re confident that you will score well on the exam, continuing with the course may pay off in the end, but remember that nothing is definite until you know your scores and which college you’ll be attending.   

Though dropping a higher-level class may end up being the right decision for you, it does not have to be your only option. 

Many schools will provide tutoring, extra credit, or alternative coursework if you find yourself in over your head. Communicate clearly with your teachers about your goals for the course and any concerns that arise during it. Most teachers will appreciate your effort and may be willing to work with you should you experience challenges during the semester.

Also think about how you can avoid this situation in the future. Consult with teachers, friends or advisers before course registration to discuss your ideas. Think about which classes will best fit your academic profile, consider core requirements and future prerequisites, and recognize your personal interests, strengths, and goals.

High school is the time to plan a course load that highlights your abilities. Enroll in courses that don’t challenge or interest you, and you’re not likely to impress the admissions committee. But overload yourself with AP, IB and honors courses that stretch you too thin, and your GPA could suffer. So where’s the happy medium? Make sure that you discuss your plans and weigh the pros and cons carefully with a trusted teacher or adviser before you make your final choice.

For more about information about dropping a class, check out our article here!

For more information about course selection, check out our updated guide. Or, for in-depth personalized advice, consider our CollegeVine Mentorship Program.

Kate Sundquist

Kate Sundquist

Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.
Kate Sundquist

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