I’m willing to bet the “4” I got on my AP bio exam that you have a love/hate relationship with the idea of taking Advanced Placement classes.
You probably love the fact that you can take college-level courses as a senior, but the thought of taking an AP class or two (or heck, even three!) most likely stresses you out. Will the storied amounts of homework and reading be worth your time and effort?
You can bet they will be.
Taking AP classes in high school can help you bypass college requirements, which can mean more time for elective classes, a lighter class load in college and maybe even a lower tuition bill.
Because I scored a 3 or better on all of my AP exams, I tested out of college math (thank you, AP calculus), only had to take one college-level science (thank you, AP biology) and could choose my own literature course (thank you, AP English). A little extra work my senior year of high school, and I had enough college credit to study abroad and have a part-time job without having to worry about classes in subjects in which I was only mildly interested.
“The structure, the rigor and the intensity of the course is an excellent preparation for college,” says Vicki Carter, who teaches the AP statistics course at West Florence high school in Florence, S.C.
The 34 AP courses and exams offered in 19 subject areas are college-level in their content, deadlines and the amount of reading required. At the end of the course, you will take an AP exam. The exams are graded on a scale of 1 (bad) to 5 (superb). For AP credit to count for credit in college, most schools require that you score at least a 3. According to the College Board, the company that overseas the AP program, approximately two out of every three test-takers earn at least a 3. The exams are administered in May and cost $82 each. You’ll receive your grade report by July.
But what if you struggle all through the class? Should you still take the exam? Alex Nazemetz, admissions director at University of Pittsburgh at Bradford, says you should.
“Students should challenge themselves and take the exam at the end of the term,” says Nazemetz. “Many students could be surprised at the results of their testing.”
If you take an AP exam and don’t score as well as you had planned, don’t panic. For the college admissions process, “we’re more interested in how that course figures into their overall GPA, not necessarily what they receive from the AP exam,” says Patrick Smith, director of communications and visitor programs at Penn State University.
In fact, at Penn State, your final AP score is really only used to decide whether you can receive college credit for your AP class. “Those are the most cost-effective college credits you can earn,” Smith says.
For a three-credit class at your typical in-state university, for example, you can expect to shell out an average $450. But get an acceptable score on an AP exam, and you can get college credit for the class and only have to pay the $82 AP fee.
Carter estimates that you’ll spend about 30 percent more time on an AP class than you would on homework for other classes.
“The workload can get pretty tough sometimes,” admits high school student Juilann Zawadzki. “You learn serious time management skills and that you cannot procrastinate.”
But AP courses are worth it. They can boost your standing in the admissions game.
“AP courses are highly regarded in the admissions process,” Nazemetz says. “The extra effort on the students’ part to challenge themselves can help lift a borderline student to different levels in the admissions process.”