Take a harder class but get slighter lower grade, lowering your GPA, or the easier class to boost GPA?

By Maxine Seya

Is it better to take harder classes but get slighter lower grade, resulting in lower GPA, or take the easier class and get the better grade to help your GPA? For example, AP Calc BC is harder than AP Calc AB. If someone challenges himself/herself with BC, but gets B+ vs. another person taking AB and gets A, how would admissions view the 2 candidates, all else being equal? There are many other examples like AP Art History considered an easy AP course vs. AP U.S. History.

– Julie

Julie submitted this question in response to the Carnegie Mellon interview question call. Although this question wasn’t selected for the interview, it touches upon an important topic regarding course rigor.

It’s better to take a harder class and get a slightly lower grade. Taking the harder class shows the admissions officers you care more about learning difficult concepts and challenging yourself academically than maintaining an image of a GPA. The college experience is more than just maintaining a certain GPA and they want to recruit students who’ve already been living in the mindset.

All of the exclusive insider interviews we’ve done with admissions professionals have taught us that application readers are turned off by students who try to do something “just to get into college.”

Here’s what Bryan, an admissions director at the University of Michigan, said when we asked that exact same question.

Preferably, getting an A in the harder class. That’s what we usually say right back at them [applicants]. If they had to get a B in the harder course, then go for that instead of the easier A in the easier course. The counselors at undergraduate admissions will know what’s a blow-off course or what’s an easy A. For the most part, they will penalize the student in the admissions process.

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Maxine Seya
Maxine Seya is a former investigative journalist, college consultant, and admissions interviewer. She studied at Peking University (Beijing, China) and Université Paul-Valéry (Montpellier, France) and investigated for CNN and Huffington Post before graduating from Northwestern University. She founded SocratesPost to share the human stories behind the admission gates and offer parents clarity as they help their teens with college.