Calculus or no?


10-Year Member
5-Year Member
Dec 30, 2007
I appologize in advance for the length.
I have a rather hard decision to make. My problem is this; I would like to take AB Calculus next year to prepare for USNA, however I will have to sacrifice other classes in order to take it. I would like to take classes I consider pertinent to my academy career but I am already sacrificing them to some extent. The problem is really that in order to take AB cal there is a mandatory lab. Cal is an AP credit and the lab is honors in terms of weighted GPA. Unlike BC cal, it is not double blocked for two AP weightings. My question really is what do you think is the best of my three choices:
1. Take the AB Cal and drop (in parentheses is why I want to take it): Psychology (for personal reasons and insight into the leadership/ethics), Human Anatomy and Physiology (to be used as a Bio review), Digital Electronics (may not be offered but is like intro to Electrical Engineering), or German 4 Honors (I will most likely not be able to take German at USNA.) If this choice which do you recommend I keep?
2. Forget about Cal and take AP Statistics. I have no idea if this will be helpful to me at NA. I’m considering it because it is not double blocked and is the only other challenging math course available. Is it worth my time, will I use/need statistics?
3. Forget about Math and take three useful electives. I don’t really like this idea. I think I should take a math, however, I do have 5 math credits including pre-cal, but I’m in advanced not honors.
A few additional notes, due to scheduling conflicts and involvements I can not take summer school to free up room in my regular schedule; I may be able to get the lab waved but do not know yet; I am currently in a lab (for pre-cal) and do not find it useful; my other classes which I WILL NOT give up are English, History, and Physics (I need all of those to graduate, I don’t need calculus) and JROTC.
Sorry this was so long, thanks in advance.
What ever you do, DO NOT take Statistics in lieu of Calc. In my humble opinion.
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Have you looked into joint enrollment at a local college? You could finish Calculus I in one semester.
What ever you do, DO NOT take Statistics in lieu of Calc. In my humble opinion.

Funny, because I might have told him the reverse.

In my day (admittedly a while ago), Statistics were not taught at USNA, and I have dearly regretted it to this day in industry.

That said, you WILL be taking Calc at USNA, and therefore a more relaxed introduction will be to your benefit. Same will go, to a lesser extent, for Digitial Electronics.

Why not drop Psychology and Anatomy? Neither of those will give you any edge that I can think of.

Decisions, decisions....
My son opted to take AP stats for a variety of reasons. Although he brings a solid grade report from his senior year, he realizes now it would have been better to take Calc even if he had a B or C, as Calc is required at the academy. He would have been better prepared. Math will kick his butt next year. Take Calc! Take whatever electives fit after psychology will not be much different than HS can wait for it. My opinion.
Sorry, if my reply seemed a bit abrupt, I was interrupted and could not complete my thoughts. To continue, I saw many kids get hammered by the Calc that first year at different academies. Like mom3boys, my son took AP Stats his Senior year & the calc almost killed him Plebe year. But he is not you & is at USMMA so.... his were different circumstances.

Altaica, truly the best thing for you to do is speak with admissions about your choices. Give a call. They won't bite. :smile: Perhaps our resident BGO can advise here as well? Careful choices are what you need at this point.

Antoinette brought up a good point of taking Calc through the college. It'll open up a whole can of worms trying to get into a class. Since you're in Columbia, USC would be great. They do require you to jump through 100 hoops to sign up for a class still being a high schooler. Paper work from your principle, paper work from USC dean, ect. ect. Its an option.
Let me weigh in on this...

when my daughter was looking at these questions we looked at how colleges view the AP classes. An AP stats class is only 1 semester of college credit no matter what. Same is true with AP psychology. But an AP Calc BC class is an entire year of college math. Big difference.

I can't tell you what to take, but I can tell you my daughter was able to validate and ENTIRE YEAR of Plebe math requirements at USNA because of her AP Calc BC score and that opened up a HUGE amount of flexibility in her planning for her course load. So this is a bonus for any Plebe. It turned out she also took AP Stats in high school, and she was able to validate even more math at USNA - and as an Arabic major this continues to help her take more advanced classes sooner - which gives her more opportunities to take the math and engineering and science courses in a slightly different sequence than the average mid, which has helped her in her preparing for a semester abroad to study in an Arabic country.

There is a negative side to taking and validating advanced classes - and this is something to consider. Plebe year is a killer. The point of your life as a Plebe is NOT academics. You may have to shine your floor instead of preparing for a Chemistry test. That's the way it is, like it or not. So if you are someone who as a Plebe is in an advanced math class in your first year - you are dying -there is no time alloted for you to really study nearly as much as the Youngster or Second Class sitting there who does not have to memorize rates, or do chow calls, or come-arounds. The professors cut the Plebes no slack in this manner either.Your grades can suffer. My mid's GPA last year compared to the first semester of this Youngster year shows this. She's right back to her high GPA scores again, but this was not the case for her as a Plebe. For some, this is a big issue. So that's something to think about as well.

A Third thing to consider. My daughter found herself crammed in her senior year, wanting to take more AP classes than she could squeese in. She went to her history teacher and asked if he would help her self-study for her AP government test. So they mapped out a game plan over the course of her senior year and on top of her original AP English/Stats/Bio/Calc BC/Physics courses at school, she studies on her own for the AP Government and passed that too. USNA gave her credit for the Gov. class which again pushed her matrix of classes forward, opening up lots of options.

Finally - USNA wants to see 5's on AP tests, maybe 4's, depending on the class. Not 3's....and of course not 2's. Have you taken AP classes/tests yet? If you are not going to score 5's on these tests - all the high school senior year work you put into these classes are going to be very very helpful in preparing you for college-work load, time management preparation and to think critically, but if you are also hoping to get validation credit at USNA you have to ace these tests at the end of it all.

Hope these perspectives provide some input to help you make up your mind.
Great example Peskemom. Food for thought requires true experiences to be told & your dd's is a good one. :thumb:
There are many factors in making your decision, Altaica103. I, too, think you would derive the most benefit from taking Calculus, not AP Statistics or Psychology. I also think USNA admissions will give you the best advice. Even so, here are other considerations:

The pace in the two semester AP AB Calculus class is excruciatingly slow - a lot of time is spent in a review of trigonometry. My older son took AB Calc, BC Calc was not offered. If you are on a block schedule and AB is taught in one semester then it might be an enjoyable course. If you have a decent aptitude in math and your school offers BC Calculus, I highly recommend taking BC instead of AB Calculus for the reasons Peskemom states. Even if you do not take the AP exam, and do not validate Calc at USNA, you will be well prepared for both Calculus I and II at any of the SA's - plus you will have a better chance of making a good grade. Remember, class rank is a factor in obtaining your choice of military branch.

My younger son, who watched his brother suffer in AB Calc (poor teacher), just successfully completed Calculus I at the local college as a joint enrolled student. The paper work, forms and interview were a good experience for him, but like Peskemom states, the application process was not especially easy and he had to take an evening class - it was the only time slot that fit his high school schedule. It was worth it, though. He got to leave school an hour early every day, he does not have to take the AP exam, he finished Calc I in one semester (not two), the teacher was excellent, and he has 4 hours of college credit. He is not planning to use that credit, though. Younger Son is planning to major in Physics at a different college and wants to start with the first in the series of four Calculus classes he will have to take.

You are doing the right thing to think carefully about your schedule next year. :thumb:
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I took AP Calc AB in high school...And AP Stats...Didn't have very good teachers+senioritis = I didn't take the AP tests.

However, taking the classes in high school did help out at USNA. I didn't validate anything as a Plebe, but just seeing the material before hand helped out a lot. I wasn't going in blind per se.

I would concentrate on AP Calc. You're gonna see it first Plebe year. Stats comes later and its easy. Everyone loves it and does well compared to Calc I, II, III and Diff Eqns (I'm an engineering type).
You MUST take calc! My BGO went back to the Naval Academy for his refresher course on BGOing this year and the director of admissions said that he needed to see some calculus on a transcript for admission this year. I'm sure there are exceptions, but I would STRONGLY advise taking Calculus. You might try contacting your BGO and ask his opinion as well
I agree with others that AP calc is a must, but for a different reason. DD is taking a similar class load this year (AP calc, AP physics, anatomy & physiology, etc.). It's a lot easier to understand physics if you have had calc, or at least have it as a co-requisite.

Side comment: I don't see anatomy and physiology as a refresher for general biology, even though it's useful. IMO, calc is much more important for success at USNA

My son is in the same situation - he has to decide in a week to change from Advanced Math, Elementary Functions and then Calculus to Math Analysis and then Calculus AB. What should he do? He has also taken a Chemistry course and feels he did not learn enough Chemistry and is considering taking a year long Chemistry AP course his senior year.

Does your son's high school teach Math Analysis one semester and Calc AB the next? Any exposure to Calculus will be helpful once he begins his first year of classes at USNA - but he should take the most advanced classes that he can handle his senior year in high school.

Taking AP Chemistry is excellent preparation for first year Chemistry and it shows the admissions board your son is willing to challenge himself. Plus he gives himself a chance to make that coveted 4 or 5 on the AP exam and perhaps have a chance to validate Chem at USNA. :thumb:
My two cents

I have a kiddo who struggled in math years 9-11; we paid tutors for years to keep him above a C. He felt like he was dumb. He was taking gifted math classes. We finally bumped him down to "easier" honors pre-cal. Then he made A's w/out any tutors. When it came time to select senior courses, he opted for stats. He planned to be a history major, so figured it didn't matter. This fall he became interested in persuing an academy appointment...too late to change classes (we start mid August). He has A's in all classes, but has no calculus. I spoke to his teacher who said he really should have taken calculus. She said hard work and a lot of studying would hopefully get him through next year.

That's our long story; you still have time to save some grief plebe year: TAKE CALCULUS IN HIGH SCHOOL. Everyone at the academy takes this...there is no easy way out for non-math/science lovers. My son will make it through by grit and determination...but it will be a tough year. Try to circumvent this by taking it while you can...any exposure is better than none.

Thank you all so much for the advice. I am glad I asked around because the overwhelming response was to take calculus. I am suprised that so many think it is so important but after almost a week of deliberation I am forced to agree. I thought about it long and hard and do agree that regardless of electives, I need to take it. That isn't to say I'm THRILLED about the prospect of one fun class as a senior however, but I know it will pay off in college, not just doing well but getting in.
Today had my math teacher sign my registration for next year. I am signed up to take AB calculus. I am a little worried about the amount of work involved but in the long run I think I will be very happy. I am hoping to work things out with guidance this week to hopefully take one or two credits online to free up some classes. I don't know that this is going to pan out since I've never had much luck with guidance but it's worth a try. If it happens it will mean I can still get all my credits and still have some fun electives too.
You will definitely cement your time management skills next year. You are making good decisons - your planning is impressive! Good luck and BTW, you have it backwards, its:

Go Army! Beat Navy! :shake:
About taking Calculus -

My daughter is at MMI this year - civil prep. They tested the kids before classes for Math the same way new cadets will take a math assessment test.

She told me there are quite a few kids in pre-calc who really have to study. They all had calculus in high school. This is because the pre-calc teacher teaches them pre-calc without a calculator. These kids learned trig and calculus on a calculator and actually have weak skills. They simply learned to go through the motions.
Not sure about USNA but West Point will test new cadets. They will be tested when they are tired and stressed and will not be able to use a calculator.

At WP and the other academies you must get through 3 semesters of calculus. Weak math skills will make this a difficult task. Just because a kid can get through AP calculus doesn't mean he has strong skills!

Mom3boys - your son will take calculus at West Point - if he goes into it with a strong pre-calculus background he will do okay. It may prepare him better than going through the motions in calculus.

To take a math class and do well is not the same as being able to regurgitate it without technology in a stressful environment.
Good points, Just_A_Mom. My son took the validation tests during the first week of Beast (maybe days 2 & 3 :eek:). He is not exactly forthcoming with details...but he said the West Point tests take getting used to.
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I would say take the calc. For me, it was take calc or stats. Now I am glad I took a little bit heavier course laod my senior year because, even though I am at NAPS, my calc background is proving extremely useful. Not only did it help get me into advanced classes (big plus in GPA=more liberty if you do well), now that we are studying calc (from the same text as my hs) my grades are going up and I have time to spend on other classes that might need a little extra time.

Just something to look at, you might hate it now, but next year, you will thank yourself for it.