Should I take AP Calculus or AP Statistics?

I'm going to be a senior next year, and I can't decide which class to take. I've struggled a bit in my Pre-Calc class this year, so I'm not sure if I can handle AP Calculus. I'm thinking about taking AP Statistics instead since I think I may be a business major in college. The schools I'm considering include NYU, UC Riverside, and Azusa Pacific University.

Which class is better to prepare me for college? Which do colleges prefer? When you compare them, which one would you say is harder?

In your situation, it shouldn't make much of a difference which of these classes you take. AP Statistics is considered to be slightly easier by most people's standards, but it's still an AP class. If you're not majoring in a STEM field or applying to the most competitive colleges in the country, you won't be faulted for taking AP Statistics instead of AP Calculus. Statistics may actually be a more useful subject for you as a business major.

As a counterargument, I also want to point out that some students find Calculus to be easier than Pre-Calculus. Don't assume that you won't be able to get through it just because you struggled a bit in Pre-Calc. I would talk with your Pre-Calculus teacher and get his or her opinion on whether you will be able to handle Calculus next year. Your teacher will have a better idea of the relative difficulty level of each math class at your school. You should also find out whether the class is Calculus AB, Calculus BC, or a combination of the two. Calculus BC covers a slightly more advanced curriculum.

For an interesting comparison between the AP Calculus and AP Statistics tests, here are the passing rates and five rates for each test in 2015:

AP Calculus AB

Passing Rate: 57.1%
Five Rate: 21.3%

AP Calculus BC

Passing Rate: 80%
Five Rate: 44.6%

AP Statistics

Passing Rate: 57.3% Five Rate: 13.2%

Notice that AP Statistics has a much lower five rate than either of the AP Calculus tests, and the more advanced Calculus BC test actually has very high passing and five rates. Students who are in the highest level Calculus class tend to be more prepared. Students in AP Statistics, although it's considered an easier class in terms of its content, often underestimate the AP test and end up doing poorly. This means that if you do take AP Statistics, you should know that there's a risk of the class being easier than the AP test (leading to a nasty shock at the end of the year), whereas with AP Calculus, the class is usually just as challenging as the test if not more so.

These are all factors to consider in making your decision. Again, you should consult with your teachers, guidance counselor, and/or other students who have taken these classes in the past to get some input on what they're really like at your school.


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