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Gifted High School Course Options

Gifted Testing and Identification

In order to satisfy their intellectual needs, many gifted students must take courses beyond the typical high school offerings. Honors classes, Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), and dual enrollment in college courses are all valid options for high school students who want to engage in their interests in a rigorous way. Ideally, these options provide a challenging curriculum, inspiring teachers, opportunities to meet like-minded peers, and a boost to a student’s college application.

At the Davidson Institute, we often receive questions from parents regarding which path is right for their gifted child. Each option is distinct; no two gifted students’ journey will look the same. To help gifted families weigh their options, we have provided some of the key facets of each.

HonorsAdvanced Placement (AP)International Baccalaureate (IB)Duel Enrollment in College Courses
Demonstrates Rigor & ChallengeYESYESYESYES
Course content is typically...Determined by the teacher.Standardized by the College Board.Standardized by the IB international organization.Determined by the teacher, though there may be some standardization in lower-level courses.
Pacing is typically…Slightly faster than a typical high school course.Slightly faster than an honors course. One semester of college-level material is taught over one year.Similar to AP courses.Faster than AP or IB courses.
Instructors are...High school faculty with various backgrounds.High school faculty certified by the College Board.High school faculty with IB certification.College faculty, often graduate students or professors with advanced degrees.
Can students choose which classes to enroll in?YES… though some courses may have prerequisites, or a student may have to be recommended by a teacher to enroll.YES… though some courses may have prerequisites, or a student may have to be recommended by a teacher to enroll.NO. Typically a student has to enroll in a set series of courses.YES… though some courses may have prerequisites. Colleges may restrict which courses high school students may enroll in.
Typically included in a weighted GPA.*NOYESYESNO
College credit is typically…**Not awarded.Awarded for a high score on an AP exam.Awarded for a high score on a higher-level IB exam.Awarded.
Special OpportunitiesHonors courses typically are the easiest to access, and many schools offer a variety of courses.Students may also enroll in online AP classes to earn credit or study for an AP exam independently.IB diplomas are recognized internationally.This option typically offers the widest variety of courses, including technical & vocational courses.

* Weighted GPA policies differ. Refer to your school’s policies.
** College credit awarded is highly variable. Check with each institution

There are additional factors to consider when looking at gifted high school course options:

  • Does this course fit my child’s interests or help her develop new skills?
  • Do the facilities vary between options and, if so, which would be advantageous for my student? For example, does the community college provide access to advanced lab equipment? Does the honors course include computer lab time and instruction?
  • What kind of class experience would my child be interested in having? Meeting new students through dual enrollment? Taking classes with the same cohort in an IB program?
  • How much will the class materials, study materials, or exams cost for each option?
  • Is the teacher flexible with how students demonstrate mastery for children who may be twice-exceptional or just generally march to the beat of their own drum?

These are just a few examples of the kinds of questions it will be important to work through as a family.

Regardless of which option your student pursues, be sure you have had a chance to sit down together and talk through their educational plan and goals. School counselors can help you navigate the logistics, transcripts, and other details. If your student is unsure what they want to do, have them ask a range of other students at their school what their experiences have been with a particular program, course, or teacher. Finally, make sure your student selects a path that balances with their other interests and activities outside of class. It is important that your gifted high schooler take ownership over the direction of their education rather than only participating in options that they think will please college admissions boards.

Looking for a class in a specific subject area? Try looking through our Online Program Comparison Charts!

See also: Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate – Which is Best for Gifted Students?


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Please note, the Davidson Institute is a non-profit serving families with highly gifted children. We will not post comments that are considered soliciting, mention illicit topics, or share highly personal information.

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