Evolution of high school courses: IB, Honors, AP, College Prep, College Courses and General Studies

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By Dr Gina La Monica

The high school curriculum becomes progressively more complex and at the same time more career / majors oriented. Often times, students at this point in their life don’t know what they want to be, let alone what they would like to specialize in. Choosing which route to take and what type of course to take can be daunting.

Years ago, high schools simply offered the basic requirements for graduation without considering what colleges require for admissions. Today, students can choose from a diverse set of courses that lead to distinct pathways including vocational technical education, general / basic studies, or college preparation.

These divergent roadmaps include various types of courses: International Baccalaureate (IB), Specialization (H), Advanced Placement (AP), college preparation, college courses (college credit per double or simultaneous enrollment) or general studies (including technical career courses). When you decide to enroll in any of these types of courses, find out about the differences between them. Each type of course affects a student’s academic record or university admission request in its own way.

Parents often ask me if it is more beneficial for their child to join an IB program rather than a rigorous high school curriculum in order to increase their chances of being accepted into a top university. International Baccalaureate The programs are highly regarded worldwide in over 146 countries where all students learn from the same program. A student who enters an IB program must remain in the entire program; you are usually not allowed to take one or two courses. For some students, the commitment to the entire program can be too overwhelming and overwhelming. After graduation, students receive an IB Diploma, which is recognized around the world. Additionally, students can receive college credits based on their final IB exam scores. Obtaining an IB degree is no small feat, and leading colleges recognize it. To find out more about IB programs, click on the following link: https://www.ibo.org/

Specialization course are usually scattered throughout a high school catalog and are more difficult than their general level counterpart. Most high schools raise a student’s cumulative grade point average (GPA) after successfully completing a class designated as an honor. Always check the UC high school articulation agreement to make sure this course has been recognized as an honor by the universities. Some courses were selected only by the high school as a specialist course, but were not approved by the universities as a specialist course. I would recommend high school students to start taking honors courses in first year and / or second year to successfully prepare them for the AP or college level courses, which they can take during their junior or senior years. The following link has information on specialization courses within the Santa Barbara School District: https://pages.sbunified.org/departments/educational/curriculum/honors-placement/

Advanced placement classes are popular in public schools, but are disappearing in private college preparatory schools. These courses are regulated by the College Board and prepare students for an AP exam at the end of the class. Students who score a four or a five on the exam can earn college credit for the course according to the universities’ AP policy. A high score on the AP exam demonstrates a high level of proficiency in the field. High schools give students a boost in their GPA when they complete an AP course no matter if they pass the exam, which is why many high school students don’t bother to take the test. An interesting fact is that you don’t need to take an AP course, like AP History, to take the exam – you just need to register for the test. An AP exam costs $ 95, but there is a reduced fee for those who qualify. For more information on AP courses, go to the following link: https://apstudents.collegeboard.org/

College preparatory Courses are courses required by colleges for general secondary education. If you plan to attend four-year college after graduating from high school, be sure to take these required courses. All general education programs at a secondary school must be formulated and approved by the university to meet college admission requirements. Do not take any courses that are not on your high school approved list for that specific area, otherwise they will only count as high school credit, not toward meeting college admission prerequisites. For a list of approved general education courses at your high school, go to the following UC website: https://hs-articulation.ucop.edu/agcourselist

Taking college credit courses while in high school is another way to showcase your ability to be successful in college courses. Most importantly, community college classes are free for all high school students. Families can save a lot of money by having their child complete general education classes at a local two-year college. Some high schools even offer college courses in their high school, called double or simultaneous enrollment, which also increases a student’s GPA. For these students, they earn high school and college credits by taking just one course. Santa Barbara High School offers many dual enrollment courses that can be found on this site: https://sbhs.sbunified.org/programs/sbcc-dual-enrollment Santa Barbara City College has an office for double registrations at the following link: https://www.sbcc.edu/dualenrollment/index.php

The last category of courses concerns general studies, including vocational technical education. These classes usually do not meet any college requirements, but they do meet the requirements for a high school diploma. Some students prefer to study in areas that are not offered at the four-year college, such as automotive technology. Others prefer to enroll in community college before enrolling in a university. For these students, a general technical or professional course is best suited to their academic goals.

In summary, there is an array of interesting courses to choose from at your local high school. Find the level of program that not only challenges you, but at which you can succeed. Take AP or IB courses if you’re willing to put in the time and hard work to earn at least an A or B. College admissions staff highly recommend and want high school students to work beyond their area of comfort. However, it is important to find the balance between a rigorous curriculum but not too much at the expense of academic success. Every child is different with unique learning styles and interests. I recommend taking more demanding courses in the areas that interest you. Show your strengths, not your weaknesses, by signing up for the courses that suit you best.


Dr. Gina La Monica holds a PhD in Education and has worked as a high school counselor, college administrator, and professor at many universities and colleges including University of California Los Angeles, California Lutheran University, California State University, Northridge, San Diego. State University, etc. She was a full professor and expert in vocational technical education and adult learning. She currently teaches at a local college and helps students of all ages from kindergarten to college level explore careers, enroll in college, assess learning, tutor and plan their own. studies.

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College and career counseling

Dr Gina La Monica

(818) 359-0859

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