“Should I take AP or Honors courses?” This is a tough question to answer and I don’t think there is any definitive answer to it. At the last school I worked at, Swarthmore College, it was almost always better to take the harder courses. We wanted to see students who challenged themselves and took classes that were geared toward preparing a student well for challenging college courses. Taking AP, IB, or Cambridge courses were a good way to show us that. However, Indiana University Bloomington would have a different answer. They wanted to see the highest GPA a student could attain, even if that meant taking a less hefty course load.
The point here is that, in admissions offices, there isn’t 100% consensus on the answer to the AP or Honors question. Having said that, choosing to take the harder courses is almost always the better bet. Many more colleges will value the choice to take a more difficult course more than taking the easier route. This is what I have my own kids do.
The answer also depends on the AP exams and how those turn out. If the student has a low grade in an AP course and earns a 1 on the exam, it looks like the material was too much for the student to handle and the lower grade looks a bit worse. If the student earns a low grade and a 4 or 5 on the exam, it looks like the teacher was tough, but despite the lower grade, the student mastered the material. Because AP courses are seen as similar in difficulty to college courses, if it appears that the APs are too much for a student, an admissions officer may have concerns about the student’s ability to do college-level work. Therefore, make sure you’re confident in your ability to handle the rigor of an AP course before choosing one just to impress an admissions office.