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Friday, December 13, 2019

Are AP Classes Worth It?

What are AP Classes?

AP classes are "Advanced Placement" courses.  They are certified as such by the College Board, the company that produces the PSAT, SAT, SAT subject, and AP exams.  They are completely Common Core aligned.  There are 38 AP courses in subjects ranging from English, Research, Math, Computer Science, French, Japanese, German, Spanish, Chinese, Italian, Latin, Government, History, Art, Psychology, to Science.

Students can take them at any time during high school, although there is a typical pattern and progression for many of them.  While AP level courses are not required for graduation, they do fulfill graduation requirements.  For example, a student can take English 9, English 10, English 11, and English 12 to fulfill a 4 year English requirement.  Or s/he can take English 9 honors, English 10 honors, AP English Language & Composition, & AP Literature.  Both sets of courses, along with many other variations, fulfill the HS graduation and college admissions requirements for four years of English classes.

Why take AP courses?

AP courses are not required for high school graduation.  They are more challenging than regular or honors level high school courses.  Some say they are equivalent to college courses.  This is difficult to evaluate since they are structured completely differently than college courses.  Schools that weight grades weight AP courses, sometimes at one point higher than regular classes, and sometimes two points higher.

Admissions offices consider the courses taken by students, as well as their grades.  Seeing a rigorous course load, especially one including AP courses is desired.  Selective colleges expect to see AP courses on high school transcripts (or dual enrollment, more on that later).  The more selective the college is, the more rigor required in order to be accepted.

Additionally, if the student scores well enough (at least a 3; each college has its own rules about what it will accept for credit, if they accept any), they will be able to get college credit and/or college course requirements waived.  This can lead to significant savings on the cost of a college degree!

Can Homeschoolers take AP Classes?

Yes!  The Pennsylvania homeschoolers offer all the AP courses online.  For more information, see their site here.  They also offer some pre-AP/AP run up courses.  Their courses are also approved by the NCAA.  Homeschooling families will need to make arrangements with brick and mortar schools to take the tests.  Do this early.  The testing coordinators must order the tests by mid-November (for the May testing season).  Homeschooled students from all over the world take these excellent online courses.

How do AP Classes Relate to AP Tests?

Students are not required to take AP classes in order to take AP tests.  Conversely, they can take the AP course but not the test.  However, students cannot get college credit for AP classes without taking the test.  Credit is related to the test score. Yes, students who don't take AP classes but do take AP tests can get credit if their scores are high enough.

AP Tests are given each year in May, on a schedule set forth by the College Board.  All students taking a given AP exam will take it in the same time period on the same date.  For example, all AP US History exams are given on the same morning (or afternoon) of the same date, no matter where in the world the student is taking the exam.

What is an AP Test?

Most AP exams have two sections.  The first is a multiple choice test, where students are scored based on their correct answers.  Wrong or skipped answers do not count against them.  The second section of the exam features various types of free response questions, including essays, verbal/conversations, problem/solution formats.

There is a fee of about $100 for each AP exam.  The College Board currently charges $94/test.  Some schools add a small administration fee to offset their costs.  If there is financial need in the family, a $32 fee reduction for each test is available.  The testing coordinator will assist with that process.

What are AP Scores?

AP scores range from 1 to 5.  5 indicates the student is "extremely well qualified" in that subject and is the best score.  A score of at least 3 "qualified" is required to receive college credit.

Is taking AP Courses and Exams Worth it?

By and large, yes.  Raising your GPA, improving your class rank, impressing college admissions, and learning to handle a demanding workload are all important benefits.  However, if a student is not strong in a subject area, taking an AP level course in that subject could lead to failure or a poor grade and great frustration so it is advised to take AP classes in strong subject areas.

What if our Curriculum is not Common Core Aligned?

There is significant information available from the College Board's website about the material covered on each exam.  Use that to compare your student's curriculum to the tested material in order to determine if there is adequate overlap to enable the student to be well prepared for the AP exam.  There are also CLEP exams available.  While they are also produced by the College Board, they are college equivalency exams so are not Common Core aligned.  These exams can be taken in many places around the country at any time of year.  They are accepted almost as widely as AP scores; full information can be found on the College Board website here.

Is AP or Dual Enrollment better?

Admissions officers don't tend to comment on this.  In my experience, taking actual college courses is better preparation for the student.  Additionally, it makes it clear to the colleges that the student is already able to successfully handle college courses so will likely transition to university very smoothly.  However, there are legitimate concerns about having high school students mixing with college students.  Parents and colleges have these concerns.  Some colleges require parents to be present in class if the student is under a certain age, or for the professor to approve the student's presence in the class.  Check with any college to learn their requirements.

Students will need to be mature and able to handle the behavior and comments of college age students in order to be successful.  There are many considerations involved.  Parents know their children best so are best suited to make this determination.  Students will also need some coaching, since college courses are structured differently from high school classes and have different academic expectations.  Grading is handled differently as well.