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Are AP Classes Worth It? Pros and Cons

When you’re planning your high school curriculum, you’ll probably find yourself deciding whether you should include Advanced Placement (AP) courses in your academic portfolio. These college-level classes can both prepare you for the rigors of college, and demonstrate that you are willing and able to challenge yourself. 


But are AP classes truly worth the extra effort? Here are the top pros and cons.


What Are AP Classes?


Today, the College Board’s AP program includes 38 courses, spanning topics including arts, English, history and social sciences, math and computer science, sciences, and world languages and cultures. Each of these courses is meant to deliver a semester’s worth of college-level content over a year to high school students, who then take an exam testing their knowledge and comprehension of the subject.


The exams are graded on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the highest mark. In some cases, students who score well on certain AP tests may earn college credit or be placed in a higher level in the subject when they matriculate. 


At most high schools, AP is the highest level of a given subject available (along with IB and dual enrollment courses). If your school doesn’t offer AP courses at all, or doesn’t have a particular subject, you may choose to self-study — although bear in mind that this can be very challenging depending on the exam.

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Pros of AP Classes


1. You may receive college credit. 


Many colleges offer college credit for students who receive certain scores on their AP exams. At selective schools, that’s typically a 4 or 5, though some schools may offer credit for a score of 3. 


Just make sure you look up their policies because most colleges only apply credit for select exams. In some cases, for example, you’ll receive credit for a 3 on AP Calculus BC, but not for a 5 on AP English Literature and Composition.


In some cases, albeit rare ones, you could even save money on your college education, provided you earn enough AP credits that apply to your school and allow you to graduate early.


2. The rigor better prepares you for college.


Research shows that AP students — especially high scorers on AP exams — are more likely to have higher GPAs in their first year of college than those who didn’t take any AP exams. This suggests that participation in the AP program correlates to better preparation for a college curriculum.


3. Weighted grades can boost your GPA.


Many high schools weight GPAs, adding as much as a full point for participation in AP courses. That means that if you earn a B, typically a 3.0 in a regular course, it could be assigned a value of 4.0. 


Still, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work hard in AP courses, or that the weighting will save your GPA. Colleges take many aspects of your transcript into account, including the rigor of the courses and the grade you received, as well as how your performance compares to that of your classmates. 


Cons of AP Classes


1. Coursework is time-consuming.


When you enroll in an AP course, you should be aware that the work will take longer than that in regular-level classes. These curricula are meant to be college-level, so you’ll need to invest more time and effort than you would in less rigorous classes.


Be honest with yourself about your time commitments; the last thing you want to do is spend every waking hour on academics. Take care to budget time for extracurriculars, friends, family, and self-care.


2. Exams are expensive.


AP exams generally cost $95 each, at least in the US, US territories, Canada, or DoDEA schools. Students outside of these areas will pay $125/exam. The two exceptions are AP Seminar and AP Research, whose exams cost $143 in all locations. If exams are ordered late, they will incur a $40 additional fee.


If a student takes a handful of AP exams, that’s easily several hundred dollars! Fortunately, students who are enrolled in or eligible to participate in the National School Lunch Program can receive a fee waiver. (Other criteria can also confirm eligibility. Learn more.)


3. Many selective schools don’t take AP credit.


Some more selective schools won’t accept AP scores as college credit. More still accept certain subjects but not others.


While you may not receive credit, taking the course and the exam will still demonstrate that you’re up to the task of handling rigorous, college-level work. In fact, some colleges use the exam for placement purposes; for example, a 4 or 5 on a math or language exam could allow you to start at the 200-level, rather than the 100-level.


The Bottom Line


Even if you don’t earn college credit with your AP scores, the courses and exams are still helpful. You should certainly take as many as you can handle if you’re applying to top 30 colleges and universities.


If you’re applying to less selective schools, such as the top 30-100, you don’t need to overload on APs. However, you should still take some in subjects that interest you the most to demonstrate your college readiness. 


Not sure which APs to take? It’s best to prioritize the ones that are related to your anticipated major and the subjects in which you perform best. For literature majors, for example, that would include AP English Literature and Composition, along with other humanities subjects like U.S. History and foreign languages. Meanwhile, students who are considering a pre-med track will want to take all the science and math APs available.


You may also consider our list of the easiest and hardest AP classes, based on exam pass rate. While you shouldn’t take a class just because it’s “easy” or “hard,” this list can help you balance your schedule.


How does your profile stack up against other college applicants? What are your chances of getting into your dream school? Should you make any changes to your academic courseload? Find out all this and more with CollegeVine’s chancing engine. Create a free account to get started!

Short Bio
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn with her demigod/lab mix Hercules. She specializes in education, technology and career development. She also writes satire and humor, which has appeared in Slackjaw, Points in Case, Little Old Lady Comedy, Jane Austen’s Wastebasket, and Funny-ish. View her work and get in touch at: www.lauraberlinskyschine.com.