AP, Honors, and Independent Study Courses

Advanced Placement Courses

Beginning in the sophomore year, students who seek a greater level of academic challenge in Overlake’s already rigorous course of studies may choose from a wide variety of AP courses that are offered in most disciplines. Advanced Placement courses are college level courses which usually adhere to a national standardized curriculum. These courses give students an opportunity to pursue their passion for a particular subject by taking a demanding, in-depth course that will provide both accelerated learning and an opportunity for college admissions officers to see that they have taken the most rigorous classes offered at Overlake. Students who choose to take the national Advanced Placement Exams in May also have the opportunity to earn college credits for their high school work if they score a three or higher (out of five) on an exam. However, they should keep in mind the following: 

  • some colleges expect 4 or 5 scores for credit
  • some use the exam only for placement
  • some will have students still repeat the course in college even if they pass the exam
  • poor grades in AP classes will not enhance their college application and indeed can be used to "weed out" applicants.
What kinds of questions should students ask before committing to AP courses?
  1. Do I really enjoy this subject enough to consider devoting so much time and energy to this class?
  2. Will taking this AP class or these classes allow me time to pursue other aspects of my preparation at Overlake, such as drama, athletics, service, etc.?
  3. Do the colleges to which I am considering applying give credit for this AP course if I pass the exam?
  4. What AP score is required by a college to receive credit? (Colleges vary.)
  5. Do colleges place students in courses based on AP results, or will I also be required to take a placement exam?
Important information for students participating in the AP program:
  • All students enrolling in AP courses and their parents will be required to sign a contract indicating that they understand the teacher’s expectations for that class, including any work that must be completed prior to the start of the school year, and/or additional work that requires the student to study or attend sessions outside of the normal school day (i.e., before or after school sessions, homework over holiday breaks, etc.).
  • Each AP course has a set of prerequisites that must be completed in order to enroll in that course. Please consider those carefully before signing up for an AP course. In addition to prerequisites, enrollment in most AP courses is contingent upon prior grades and/or teacher recommendations. Specific requirements are listed in course outlines below.
  • The Overlake School recommends that students enroll in no more than three Advanced Placement Courses per year. This is considered the most rigorous course of study. Exceptions must be approved by the US Head.
  • Students are encouraged to take the AP Exams in May. The fee varies each year and can be deducted from the student’s account. The scheduled dates and times for the exams are announced early in the school year and are published in the school calendar.

Honors Courses

Honors courses are available to qualified students who wish to pursue an advanced course of study in a given subject area. Honors courses differ from AP courses in that these are courses developed by Overlake teachers and do not adhere to a national curriculum. Each department determines placement in these courses. See individual department listings for specific criteria.

Independent Study Courses

An independent study course may be offered to juniors and seniors only who wish to work beyond the requirements to pursue a topic that is not offered in the curriculum. Teachers are not required or expected to grant an independent study at a student’s request; therefore, students should regard an independent study as a privilege. An independent study course may not earn more than .5 credit, and may be taken for a semester or over a full year, depending on the intensity of the course and the frequency of meetings. A student may take only one independent study, and it may not serve as one of the student’s five-class minimum.

An independent study may be approved if one of the following criteria is met: 

  1. the student has a deep and special interest in a particular subject that is not covered in the academic program
  2. the student has exhausted the current offerings in the curriculum in the area of his or her special interest
  3. a teacher is available and willing to conduct the independent study

Students applying for an independent study must fill out a form from the Registrar and submit it to the Upper School Head. The Head will consult with appropriate personnel to determine if the independent study shall be approved.