When people talk about high school or college prep courses and classes, they often misunderstand each other, because they may talk about entirely different things that are all known by this same term. Sometimes, people refer to prep classes offered by the colleges themselves. Other times, a prep course may mean a private or state-run program to aid the less fortunate social groups to enter colleges. Also, people tend to call this way a specific group of high schools that are heavily focused on preparing their students for entering particular colleges.
So, we have put together this article to clarify the differences between various understandings of college and high school prep courses, as well as to explain in detail what they are and how they work. We are going to illustrate the activities and functions of high school preps classes, programs to facilitate the admission to college, and the private and public high schools which aim at ultimately preparing their students for being admitted to college.
We need to remember that preparing students for entering college is the primary goal of high school, the very reason for its existence. The education system suggests that what you learn in high school should get you ready to enter college. This is why the basic high school classes are often referred to as college prep classes.
This is why the standard high school education is arguably the most valid definition of “college prep classes.” These classes may vary in different schools, but normally they include math, science, and social studies – three years each, plus four years of English.
These are the disciplines that comprise the state exam in the states and districts where it is practiced. For example, if you want to graduate from high school in Massachusetts, you will have to pass three MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System) exams – in math, English, and in one of the science- or technology-related disciplines.
The essential idea is that college prep classes (in this understanding) are using the standard curriculum, not the Honors or AP and, of course, not the remedial ones. They are the core of the high school education program. Therefore – technically, you cannot say that you are taking a college prep class if you are in an Honor / AP class.
As soon as you find yourself enrolling into high school, it is up to you to decide whether to take standard college prep classes or to go with the Honors / AP. On the one hand, Honors / AP programs give you more knowledge, but on the other hand, they are more challenging, and it is harder to get good grades there than with the standard curriculum.
To make the right decision, you should evaluate your abilities and be aware of them. If you feel like you can easily get straight A's in a standard prep class, then it makes sense to go to an Honor / AP class instead. You will feel more challenged indeed, and you might even get your straight A's somewhat diluted with B's. But, you will end up more qualified, and – more importantly, a B earned at an Honor or AP class is usually more regarded by the admission officers than an A from a standard prep class. Moreover, a set of straight A's from a standard class will picture you like someone who likes to avoid any challenge and would rather prefer a non-competitive environment, and nobody likes that, including college admission officers. It is a much better idea to demonstrate yourself as a self-challenging type, hungry for more knowledge and eager to master their skills.
However, if you do not feel so confident and you feel like you are more likely to get C’s or even D’s at an Honors or AP class, then you obviously better take an standard college prep class and have higher grades. Understanding your potential without overestimating it is a very mature thing which is also taken into account by the admission officers at colleges.
So, it is best to take Honors / AP classes only in subjects that you feel particularly comfortable with and take a more relaxed pace with the rest. Of course, if you want to make the right decision, you need to be well-informed. So, you try and take a look at the actual curriculum of both standard college prep classes and Honors / AP classes before you decide which classes to take.
As we have mentioned, by "college prep courses" people often mean certain programs – both private and state-run – that aid the admission to college for applicants who would otherwise be not very likely to get enrolled. For this purpose, the programs focus on various aspects of the admission process: from conducting additional training to increase the applicants' academic skills to straightforward financial aid to pay the applicants' tuition partially or in its entirety.
These college prep programs can be community-, university-, state-, and federal-based. Here are some examples:Federal-based programs (TRIO)
Last but not least, there are these high schools specifically aimed at preparing their students for further education. They also get referred to as high school prep classes. This is the only thing by which these schools are grouped together. Otherwise, they can be public or private, they can be boarding or charter schools, they can even be parochial.Schools like these include: