Whenever we attend college information sessions, invariably, someone in the audience asks, “Is it better to get an A in a regular class or a B in an AP class?” Without fail, the admissions officer almost always responds, “It’s better to get an A in an AP class!” Not very helpful.

According to data in National Association for College Admission Counseling’s (NACAC) State of College Admission report, “students’ grades and the academic rigor of their course loads weigh more heavily in decisions to admit than standardized test scores, high school class rank, or demonstrated interest in attending.” In other words, grades and rigor are the most significant aspect of a student’s application. Highly selective colleges expect students to take the most rigorous academic courses available at their high school.

College-bound students should take at least five core courses every semester. Include AP, IB, and honors if students can get high grades in those courses. Most colleges recalculate GPA based only on core subjects (English, math, science, social science, foreign language, programming), so the high school GPA may not be considered the actual GPA for the college.

If students get a slow start freshman or sophomore year, it’s not doomsday — grades that represent strong effort and an upward trend are a plus for a college applicant.