Is it better to get an A in a regular level course or a B in an AP course?
Well, that's probably the most asked question in an admissions office. It certainly is frequently asked in my office. Honestly, it's best to get an A in an AP course. That being said... the question remains to be answered.
Here are my own observations based upon more than a decade of experience with ALL TYPES OF STUDENTS. Average (GPA) is more important.
Students should maintain as high of an average possible. If AP's are out of the realm of possibility, then that's ok. But, think of what the competition will be applying with. Do many of the students coming from the high school have an AP on their transcript? Two? Three? Seven? Ten? Fourteen? Are you a competitive applicant?
Whether a high school ranks or not, college's rank the applicants coming from a given high school. So you may have a higher GPA than other applicants-- but if they have many AP's and you don't, your high GPA won't hold as much water as you may have thought. A top tier college will not accept applicant's with straight B's, unless straight B's represent's a top 15% of the high school class.
By and large, however, it's your GPA that will 'get you in' in most cases. Your GPA currently remains more important than the rigor, at most schools.
Obviously, this blog post can go on forever about all the multitude of degree's of importance on an application, right? You have test scores, and activities, and essays, and so many more individualized layers.
But, realize this: when you attend the info session at a college, what do they report about their past applicants and current students? GPA's and test scores... at every info session. Let me let you in on a secret: admissions offices have a rating system for applicants typically based on a formula composed of GPA and test score, in that very order of importance. And, those are the facts. Which is why---- school selection and essay crafting are so critical! Aim appropriately.