Honors vs. AP: How Do They Compare? (Complete Guide)

Honors vs. AP: How Do They Compare? (Complete Guide)

Navigating high school academics involves making key decisions, one of which is choosing between Honors and Advanced Placement (AP) courses. This choice can significantly impact a student's academic trajectory, college readiness, and college admissions prospects.

Honors classes offer an in-depth exploration of high school subjects, providing a more challenging curriculum than standard courses. On the other hand, AP classes present college-level material, complete with the opportunity to earn college credit through AP exams.

Understanding the differences, benefits, and challenges of each option is crucial. In this guide, we'll delve into the nuances of Honors and AP classes, comparing their curriculums, difficulty levels, and the unique advantages they offer.

We'll also guide you through the process of choosing the right path for your academic goals, factoring in aspects like college credit, class availability, and the impact on GPA.

Whether you're a student planning your high school courses or a parent aiming to support your child's educational journey, this comprehensive comparison will provide you with the insights needed to make an informed decision.

Honors Classes: Deep Dives into High School Subjects


Honors classes are designed to offer students a more enriched and in-depth study of specific high school subjects. These courses typically cover more ground than standard classes, presenting material at a faster pace and with greater detail.

Honors curriculum often includes advanced theories, extensive reading, and complex problem-solving, aiming to stimulate critical thinking and intellectual curiosity.

The curriculum is tailored to provide a deeper understanding of the subject matter, preparing students for higher-level courses in future academic pursuits.


The difficulty level of Honors classes is noticeably higher than regular courses. These classes demand more from students in terms of time, effort, and intellectual engagement.

Students in Honors courses are expected to demonstrate a higher degree of self-motivation, discipline, and academic proficiency. The workload typically includes comprehensive assignments, extensive writing, and more rigorous examinations.

This elevated difficulty is intended to challenge academically talented students, pushing them to expand their capabilities and academic potential.


Taking Honors classes comes with a multitude of benefits. Firstly, these courses strengthen a student's academic foundation, providing them with a solid grasp of complex subjects.

This can be especially beneficial in preparation for college-level coursework. Secondly, Honors classes contribute to a higher GPA, as they often carry more weight in GPA calculations compared to standard classes. Additionally, Honors courses are favorably viewed by colleges during admissions, as they indicate a student's willingness to engage with challenging material.

Lastly, these classes foster essential skills like critical thinking, time management, and in-depth analytical abilities, which are invaluable in both academic and real-world settings.

group of female highschool students

AP Classes: College-Level Challenges and Potential Credit


AP (Advanced Placement) classes offer a curriculum that mirrors college-level coursework. These courses are designed to provide students with a rigorous academic experience, delving deeply into subjects with a focus on critical analysis and advanced concepts.

AP classes cover a wide range of subjects, from sciences and mathematics to humanities and arts. The curriculum is standardized, with course content and final exams created and overseen by the College Board.

This consistency ensures that AP courses maintain a high standard of academic rigor and integrity, recognized by colleges and universities across the nation.


The difficulty of AP classes is significant, often surpassing that of Honors courses. They demand a high level of commitment, discipline, and academic skill.

The coursework in AP classes is extensive and challenging, requiring students to engage in high-level reading, complex problem-solving, and extensive writing. The pace is fast, and the expectation for independent learning is high.

Students in AP classes must be prepared to dedicate significant time and effort both in and outside the classroom.

AP Exams

A unique aspect of AP classes is the AP exam at the end of the course. These standardized exams test students' mastery of the course content and are graded on a scale of 1 to 5.

Scoring well on an AP exam (typically a 3 or higher) can earn students college credit or advanced standing at many universities, potentially saving on tuition costs and allowing for greater academic flexibility in college.


AP classes offer several benefits. They provide students with a taste of college-level academics, which can be invaluable for college preparedness.

Success in AP courses and exams is highly regarded in the college admissions process, demonstrating a student's ability to excel in challenging academic environments. The potential to earn college credit is a significant advantage, often allowing students to graduate early or take more advanced courses in college.

Furthermore, the skills developed in AP classes, such as analytical thinking, time management, and academic resilience, are crucial for success in higher education and beyond.

students picking classes

Choosing Between Honors and AP Classes: Finding the Right Fit

Deciding whether to take Honors or AP classes is a significant decision for high school students, involving several key considerations. Each option has its unique features and potential benefits.

Ability to Earn College Credit

One of the most notable differences between Honors and AP classes is the potential for earning college credit. AP classes offer this through AP exams, where high scores can lead to college credit or advanced placement in college courses.

This is not typically the case with Honors classes, which, while challenging and respected, do not usually provide direct college credit opportunities.

Curriculum and Length

Both Honors and AP classes offer more challenging curriculums than standard courses. However, AP courses follow a standardized curriculum designed to mirror college-level coursework, which can be more intensive and specialized.

Honors classes, while still advanced, might offer more flexibility and diversity in content. Additionally, AP courses culminate in an AP exam, requiring dedicated preparation throughout the academic year.

Class Availability

Availability can vary significantly depending on the school. Some schools offer a wide range of AP courses but may have limited Honors options, or vice versa. It's important to consider the subjects available in each category at your school and align them with your academic interests and future plans.

Difficulty Level

Both Honors and AP classes are more challenging than regular courses, but AP classes are generally considered to be at a higher difficulty level due to their college-level curriculum and the rigor of AP exams.

Students should assess their own academic strengths, work ethic, and time management skills when choosing between the two.

GPA Weight

Honors and AP classes often have a higher GPA weight compared to standard classes, meaning they can have a more significant impact on a student’s GPA.

AP classes frequently carry more weight than Honors classes, potentially making them more attractive for students looking to boost their academic standing.

However, it’s crucial to balance the desire for a higher GPA with the ability to successfully manage the increased workload and stress that these classes can bring.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is AP Better Than Honors?

"Better" can vary depending on a student's goals and abilities. AP classes offer the potential for college credit and are often seen as more rigorous due to their standardized college-level curriculum and exams.

However, Honors classes are also challenging and can provide a deep, comprehensive understanding of a subject. The choice depends on what a student is looking to achieve - whether it's depth in a particular subject (Honors) or a college-level challenge with the possibility of earning credit (AP).

Do Colleges Look at AP or Honors?

Colleges generally view both AP and Honors classes favorably as they indicate a student’s willingness to take challenging courses. However, AP classes might have a slight edge in the admissions process due to their standardized, college-level curriculum and the objective measure of achievement provided by AP exams.

That said, a strong performance in Honors classes is also highly regarded, especially if AP courses are not available in a student’s school.

Do Honors Classes Boost Your GPA?

Yes, Honors classes often boost a student’s GPA as they typically carry a higher weight than regular classes. This means that earning a high grade in an Honors class can have a more significant positive impact on a student's overall GPA.

However, it’s important to balance the pursuit of a higher GPA with the ability to handle the increased workload and difficulty level of Honors classes.

Conclusion: Should I Take AP or Honors Classes?

In conclusion, the decision to enroll in AP or Honors classes should be based on your individual academic goals, strengths, and future plans. AP classes offer the rigor of college-level courses with the added benefit of potentially earning college credit, which can be a significant advantage for those aiming to reduce college expenses and workload.

They are ideal for students looking for a challenge and a way to stand out in college admissions.

Honors classes, while not offering college credit, provide an opportunity to delve deeply into subjects with a challenging curriculum, enhancing your understanding and preparation for advanced studies.

These classes are well-suited for students seeking to strengthen their knowledge in specific areas while improving their academic standing and GPA.

Both AP and Honors courses demonstrate a commitment to academic excellence and are valued by colleges. It's crucial to consider your academic interests, workload capacity, and college aspirations when making this decision. Remember, the best choice is one that aligns with your personal strengths and educational goals, helping you to grow and succeed in your academic journey.

Back to blog