The age-old question, what’s financially more effective: Receiving an A in a Regular class or a B in an Honor’s class?

The age-old question, what’s financially more effective: Receiving an A in a Regular class or a B in an Honor’s class?
Our daughter is currently a senior at Libertyville High School (LHS). This fall, she will be going off to college and her focus in choosing a college has been primarily Big Ten. My wife and I have done a lot of research in this area and from our perspective,  most Big Ten Universities focus on two things – Grade Point Average (GPA) and ACT score. Regardless of what we think their focus should be, they look at very little else besides these two things. With so many applications and demand exceeding supply, it’s not necessary for them to spend too much time on any one candidate. It appears, from their perspective and through the law of averages, they’ll get a diverse student body.

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If this is true, how do you maximize your GPA in High School to help prepare for a Big Ten University? You want to take challenging courses to get ready for College; however, at the same time you need to keep your GPA as high as possible. The question then becomes, if your strength is History and English, how should you handle courses like Biology and Math? For many Big Ten Universities, they expect prospective students to take 4 years of Math and Science although they don’t necessarly have to be in the Honors category. 

If you’re anxious to prove yourself in High School, you enroll in Honors Math and Science. In fact, you may do real well in both courses earning 87 and 88% respectively (certainly should feel proud of your accomplishment). Unfortunately, your letter grade is a B for each course, which gives you 3.5 grade points for each course as they are Honors courses.

An alternative is to bypass the Honors courses and take Regular Math and Science. If you believe you could earn an 87% to 88% for the Honor’s course (previous example), then you should have a good shot to earn at least 90% for the Regular course. If successful at achieving at least 90%, this will earn you an A or 4.0 grade points for the Regular course. By taking this approach, your GPA is 4.0 as opposed to 3.5 for the Honors courses. What looks better on paper for Big Ten Admission Counselors?

In other words, taking a lot of challenging courses in High School might prepare you a little more for College although there’s a risk for many students your GPA may suffer and reduce your options. Especially if you’re targeting Big Ten Schools. However, a higher GPA and ACT score might afford you many more University opportunities as well as potential scholarships. One must also keep in mind Libertyville High School is well known for their academics, so enrolling in the standard curriculum and bypassing most Honors courses still exposes you to a solid preparation for the University.

One other thing to keep in mind, if you know your area of study at the University (History, for example), you may want to take that type of challenging course in High School even if you don’t earn an A in that class. It’s certainly good experience and helps prepare you for the type of coursework you’ll see at the University level.

If you get an ‘A’ in Honors, you receive 4.5 grade points
If you get an ‘A’ in a Regular Course, you receive 4 grade points
If you get a ‘B’ in Honors, you receive 3.5 grade points
If you get an ‘B’ in a Regular Course, you receive 3 grade points


Kevin Schwarm

I have over 25 years of professional experience in business, information technology (IT), and customer service. Industry experience in retail, medical insurance, higher education, non-profit, financial services, and property and casualty insurance. Customer focused professional interested in providing value (save time, money and aggravation) by evaluating and analyzing information, services and products with a unique perspective.