PURPOSE: Both epidemiological (unselected) and high risk (screening on known risk criteria) samplings have been used to investigate the course of affective disorders. Selecting individuals on multiple risk criteria may create a sample not comparable to individuals with similar risk criteria within the general population. This study compared depressive symptoms across the two sampling methods to test this possibility. METHODS: The high risk Cambridge Hormones and Moods Project (CHAMP) screened and recruited adolescents aged 12 to 16. A total of 905 (710 high risk) individuals participated and were reassessed at three follow-ups. The ROOTS epidemiological sample consisted of 1,208 14-year-olds reassessed at 15.5 and 17 years. The risk profile for CHAMP was recreated in the ROOTS study. Both samples completed the Moods and Feelings Questionnaire, a self-report measure of current depressive symptoms. RESULTS: Comparing individuals with the same high risk profiles across the CHAMP and ROOTS studies revealed no significant differences in mean depression scores. Combining the samples revealed that for females, mean depression scores were maintained from 12 to 15 years then declined by 17 years. For males, scores declined from 12 throughout adolescence. High risk status led to consistently higher levels of depressive symptoms in female adolescents but result in little change within male adolescents. CONCLUSIONS: The high risk design recruited adolescents with a depression symptoms profile comparable to the general population for both sexes. High risk status may alter the trajectory of depressive symptoms in female adolescents only. Males may be less sensitive to recent adversity.