What are your chances of acceptance?

Your chance of acceptance
Duke University
Duke University
Your chancing factors
Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

Should You Take Harder High School Classes or Those You Know You’ll Do Well In?

Is your profile on track for college admissions?

Our free guidance platform determines your real college chances using your current profile and provides personalized recommendations for how to improve it.

As you start choosing your classes for next year, you’ll notice that many of your courses are offered at different levels of academic difficulty. AP or IB level is usually the hardest, Pre-AP is the second hardest (if your school offers that option), honors is next, and the on-level or non-accelerated version of the course is the least challenging.


When you are looking at these varying levels of difficulty, you’re immediately faced with a dilemma: do you take the easier classes for the easier A that will pad your GPA, or do you challenge yourself by taking the harder classes that will look great on your transcript but might ruin your GPA?


Ultimately, we at CollegeVine recommend that you do what you think is best for you. However, we have a few pieces of advice to offer if you’re ever conflicted between hard classes and classes you know you’ll do well in. For the pros and cons of taking harder classes along with some key tips on what you should do in this situation, read on.



Pros of Taking Harder Classes

On the surface, taking the harder version of a class may seem like the obvious choice. After all, when you’re applying to college, you want to catch their attention by showing that you’ve challenged yourself academically. Here are some of the other pros of choosing to take the more challenging courses:


#1. You’ll be challenging yourself academically, which will keep school work interesting and exciting.


#2. You’ll be better prepared for the rigor and pace of college courses, and colleges will see that in your transcript.


#3. Just because it’s a harder class doesn’t mean you won’t get an A. As long as you work hard and study adequately, a good grade is very possible.


#4. If it’s an AP/IB class, there’s always the possibility of earning college credit as long as you pass the AP or IB exam that is offered at the end of each academic year.


#5. Depending on the class, you might learn more material in one year than if you were to take the less challenging version of the class. In other words, you’ll walk out smarter if you take the challenging course.

Discover your chances at hundreds of schools

Our free chancing engine takes into account your history, background, test scores, and extracurricular activities to show you your real chances of admission—and how to improve them.

Pros of Taking Classes You Know You’ll Do Well In

Despite the appeal of signing up for the more flashy, challenging class option, there is some merit to the argument that taking the on-level version of the class is the way to go. Here are some reasons why you might decide to sign up for classes that you know you’ll do well in:


#1. You have a better shot at getting a good grade, which will boost your GPA and class rank.


#2. Usually, the easier classes have less after-school coursework and are less time consuming overall.


#3. When you’re not holed up in the library studying for the challenging classes, you have more time to focus on other things like extracurriculars, jobs, social activities, etc.


#4. Taking a class you know you have a good shot at doing well in tends to decrease your stress level in high school by a significant amount.


#5. You’ll have the time to go above and beyond in the easier classes through extra credit, attending tutoring hours, etc. if you’re not spending all of your time just trying to master the basic material.


#6. You may have more fun and enjoy the learning the material more if it’s not as challenging of a class.



CollegeVine’s Insights

All that being said, we at CollegeVine have our own recommendation on which classes you should choose based on our years of experience in the college admissions space.


We believe that ultimately, you are in high school to learn and build a great academic profile that will get you to college. The fact of the matter is that no decently ranked college is going to be impressed if they look at your transcript and see that you took non-challenging classes. If that’s all they see, how do they know that you’re prepared for the academic rigor of college? Simply put, they don’t.


Overwhelmingly, we’ve found that most colleges would rather see that you challenged yourself in a course and got a lower grade than see that you didn’t challenge yourself and got an A+.


Furthermore, at most high schools, signing up for challenging classes is a zero-risk game. As long as you request it early enough, you can almost always request a schedule change from a more challenging class to a less challenging class if you find that you no longer want to take the harder class. Colleges won’t usually see that change, so changing the course mid-way will not harm your college chances in any way. Thus, why wouldn’t you go for the challenging class?



For More Information

Need some more help choosing your classes for next year? Check out these previous blog posts from CollegeVine:


What AP Courses Should You Take?

How To Pick Your High School Courses Freshman and Sophomore Year

The Beginner’s Guide to the International Baccalaureate Program

Your Guide To Junior Year Course Selection


Looking for help navigating the road to college as a high school student? Download our free guide for 9th graders and our free guide for 10th graders. Our guides go in-depth about subjects ranging from academicschoosing coursesstandardized testsextracurricular activitiesand much more!


Want access to expert college guidance — for free? When you create your free CollegeVine account, you will find out your real admissions chances, build a best-fit school list, learn how to improve your profile, and get your questions answered by experts and peers—all for free. Sign up for your CollegeVine account today to get a boost on your college journey.

Sadhvi Mathur
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Sadhvi is a recent graduate from the University of California, Berkeley, where she double majored in Economics and Media Studies. Having applied to over 8 universities, each with different application platforms and requirements, she is eager to share her knowledge now that her application process is over. Other than writing, Sadhvi's interests include dancing, playing the piano, and trying not to burn her apartment down when she cooks!