Is AP Calculus harder than College Algebra?

It depends on your school, instructor, and other factors, but your high school’s AP Calculus course will likely be comparably difficult to a college 100-level algebra course. AP (or Advanced Placement) classes are designed to replicate a college class syllabus

There have been few formal studies comparing the difficulty of AP classes and equivalent college classes. However, going off of anecdotal evidence from sites like Quora (1, 2) and Reddit, many people who took AP classes in high school report that they were about equally hard as their eventual 100-level college courses.

For instance, in Reddit user chevybow’s experience, “AP is probably equivalent to 100 level college classes- with the 100 level college classes being potentially easy depending on who teaches them. There are some exceptions- like its much easier to get a passing grade on the AP Calc BC exam than to pass Calc 2 at many universities. But there’s so many factors involved its hard to generalize.”

Classes taken in college are usually more difficult for reasons separate than curriculum, too. For instance, there is less hand-holding in college. Your professor will teach you less and expect you to teach yourself more. Even in difficult high school courses, teachers tend to be more hands-on, easing the burden of difficult subject matter.

My high school offers college algebra and AP calc. Which one should I take?

Now, some high schools offer a class called “College Algebra” as well as AP Calculus. How do these classes stack up in terms of difficulty? And which one will prepare you better for college?

Any high school course that claims to replicate a college-level course syllabus will be quite demanding. Therefore, both College Algebra and AP Calculus will be challenging. And at many high schools, passing either College Algebra or AP Calculus will provide you with college course credits (example: Kingwood High). This means that both classes will give you a head start in college.

How will taking College Algebra in high school help me in college?

At most colleges, College Algebra (CA) is the entry-level math course. It is the class that many students outside of the math program take to satisfy their math credit requirements for graduation.

If you are not pursuing a math degree, consider taking College Algebra in high school to skip some math credit requirements.

How will taking AP Calculus in high school help me in college?

You should take AP Calculus in high school if you want to jumpstart a math-heavy undergrad degree. This is especially true for AP Calculus BC, although the same applies for AP Calculus AB.

Passing AP Calculus in high school will allow you to skip some entry-level college math classes. The head start you get depends on the level of AP Calculus you take. There are two levels of AP Calculus: AB and BC.

According to US News, “AP Calculus BC has the same prerequisites as AP Calculus AB but covers two college semesters of calculus coursework. Therefore, Calculus BC may be better suited to more ambitious students, math lovers and those who wish to pursue a degree in a math-related field.”


  • If both are taken at the high school level, AP Calculus will likely be harder than College Algebra.
  • A high school AP Calculus class will likely be similarly difficult to a College Algebra course taken at college.
  • Consider taking College Algebra or AP Calculus AB if you’re not going to pursue a math or math-related degree.
  • Consider taking AP Calculus BC if your college degree will be math-heavy.

Learn more about college academics:

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