The Pros and Cons of AP Classes
Today's high school students have more options than ever to earn
college credit prior to graduation and to take higher-level courses
that can better prepare them for college. One popular option is the
Advanced Placement (AP) program, which students can take starting
in their junior year.
About 60 percent of U.S. high schools and 15,000 high schools
worldwide offer Advanced Placement classes. There are more than 35
different AP courses in 22 subject areas - everything from
chemistry and calculus to Japanese language and culture. The
program is run by a non-profit membership organization called the
College Board .
AP classes are designed to prepare high school students for the
rigors of college-level work. To see if your high school offers
approved AP courses, check the College Board's AP Course Ledger .
After students complete an AP class, for which they earn high
school credit, they can take the AP exam. The exams take place
every year in May.
It's also possible to take an AP test without taking the class.
If students are home-schooled or if their school doesn't offer a
particular AP class, they can still arrange to take an exam. They
still earn credit if they get a good score on the exam.
Depending on how students score and what college they plan to
attend, they can earn academic credit or "test out" of a college
class. It can mean fewer assignments to juggle come college time
and possibly even some financial savings.
AP classes are free, but it costs $84 to take an exam. For
low-income students, the fee is usually reduced or entirely paid
for through state and federal funds or assistance from the College
Board, according to the Board's website
Student exams receive a score ranging from 5 to 1, with 5 being
the equivalent of A-level college work. Many colleges accept scores
from 3 and up, while more selective schools only consider 4s and 5s
as worthy of credit or placement. The scores are reported to the
college of the student's choice, unless the student chooses to have
However, if students aren't prepared to do the work required to
do well in an advanced class, they should think twice about
enrolling in one. They also should keep in mind that colleges are
interested in more than just test scores. If taking a number of
advanced classes prevents students from participating in other
activities they enjoy, or from taking a class that really interests
them, they might want to reevaluate their priorities.
A guidance counselor recommended to Luther College sophomore
Cavan Krekelberg that he sign up for AP classes when he was in high
school. Krekelberg says the chance to obtain college credit was but
one of the reasons he did take the AP classes. He also liked the
fact that the AP coursework was more challenging.
Krekelberg took three of the four AP classes offered at his
public high school in Minnesota. On his AP exams, he received a
score of 4 in both psychology and biology, which Luther accepted
for credit. His score of 3 on the English literature exam didn't
meet Luther's requirements for credit, although some schools do
"If you're toying with the notion of going for an AP class, I
say do it," says Krekelberg, a music education major. "It can't
really hurt you, as long as you're willing to do the work. Getting
college credit from high school classes is invaluable, too."
If you're interested in taking an AP class, try to talk to your
guidance counselor about it during your sophomore year or early in
your junior year before you select your 11th grade classes.