Many colleges encourage future applicants to challenge themselves by taking rigorous courses in high school, such as Advanced Placement courses. AP courses can help high school students prepare for college-level work, earn college credit and boost their college applications.
But not every high school offers AP courses.
For instance, students who live in rural areas may be less likely to have access to AP courses than their urban and suburban peers, according to a report from the Education Commission of the States, an education policy think tank based in Colorado, and the College Board.
In 2015, 73 percent of seniors at rural high schools had access to at least one AP class, according to the report. For seniors in urban high schools, that number was 92 percent, and for those in suburban high schools it was 95 percent. The good news is that this access gap has been narrowing since 2001, according to the report.
Some high schoolers may worry that their lack of access to AP courses will hurt their chances of college admission. But admissions experts say students shouldn't be concerned because colleges evaluate applicants within the context of their high school.
"We know if there are not AP classes offered at a given school – we are aware of that," says John Latting, dean of admission at Emory University in Atlanta. "And so we do not expect, of course, an applicant to have taken AP classes if they're not available."
At Emory, admissions officers focus on specific regions of the country when reviewing applications and become familiar with the schools in their coverage area, Latting says. Other colleges use this model too.
Another way admissions officers learn about high schools is through the school profiles submitted with a student's application. These profiles are written by the high school and contain information about its curriculum, average student test scores and more.
Colleges say they're looking for students who make the most of what's available to them.
"Students who are able to challenge themselves to their potential, demonstrate strong achievement and citizenship in the classroom, and are able to maximize opportunities at their high schools will have a strong transcript and be competitive in any college process," Grace Cheng, director of admission at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, said via email.
Here are five types of opportunities high school students with limited or no access to AP courses can consider to challenge themselves academically and strengthen their college applications.
1. Honors classes. Schools with few or no AP courses may offer other types of courses for high-achieving students, such as honors courses.
By taking and succeeding in some of the most challenging courses available at their high school, students will show colleges that they took advantage of the opportunities they could, experts say.
2. In-person college courses. Students may be able to take college courses while they're still enrolled in high school through dual enrollment arrangements.
Some high schools partner with local two- or four-year colleges to offer dual enrollment programs, the structure of which can vary. Students may take classes on a local community college campus, for example, or the classes may be held at their high school.
Students can talk with their school counselor to learn about available dual enrollment programs, says Jodi Rosenshein Atkin, an independent college admissions counselor based in Rochester, New York.
If a high school doesn't have dual enrollment partnerships, students can reach out to colleges in their area directly.
"Seek out local higher education institutions, which usually are very open to enrolling high school students who have kind of placed out of their offerings within the school," Latting says. Students may be able to audit a class for free or take a class for a reduced cost, he says.
3. Online college courses. Students can also take advantage of online dual enrollment opportunities from colleges, experts say.
High school counselors may be able to help students find an appropriate online course, Latting says.
4. AP self-study. Students don't have to enroll in an AP class in order to sit for an AP exam. They can study on their own, though students have to be motivated in order to do this, Rosenshein Atkin says.
Some organizations offer online resources aimed at helping students prepare for AP exams. For example, online course provider edX has several massive open online courses, or MOOCs, that cover AP course material.
5. Outside mentors. If students are interested in a particular field, such as coding or graphic arts, they should look within their community for people doing that type of work who might be willing to mentor them, says Jeff Hawkins, executive director of the Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative, an organization that provides education services for 22 school districts in rural eastern Kentucky.
If no one is available locally, Hawkins encourages students to broaden their search by looking for people and organizations online.
Source: US News & World Report