Updated on January 31st, 2019
If you have a high schooler in your household, you’ve likely heard about AP courses. Many high school students and their families wonder, “Are AP classes worth it?” After all, they are more challenging than the regular version of the course and aren’t a graduation requirement.
But, just because they are optional, doesn’t mean you and your student should automatically discount them. In reality, AP courses can be incredibly valuable if your student plans to head to college in the future.
- 1 What is AP?
- 2 What are AP Classes?
- 3 What is an AP Test?
- 4 What are AP Scores?
- 5 How Much Do AP Exams Cost?
- 6 How Many AP Classes Should I Take?
- 7 Can You Take AP Exams without Taking the Class?
- 8 Are AP Classes Worth It?
What is AP?
AP stands for “advanced placement.” The name signifies the courses are more difficult than standard high school classes. Typically, these classes are as challenging as the same course in college. That’s why they can result in college credit if your student passes the exam.
What are AP Classes?
AP classes are courses that can allow your student to gain college credit before they graduate high school. They cover the same subjects are regular classes and are overseen by the College Board, the same organization that runs the SAT. Here are the main categories:
- Social Science
- Computer Science
- World Languages & Cultures
However, these courses are more difficult than their regular counterparts. Often, as a result, they are recommended to students who are high performers in specific subjects.
AP classes can be ideal for any college-bound student who a) needs to be challenged beyond the basic high school level or b) wants to get ahead on earning their degree.
Plus, they also apply to your student’s high school graduation requirements. For example, if your student needs to take four years of English, a year of AP English counts the same as a year of regular English.
Is There an AP Classes List?
In total, there are 38 courses available to students. Here is a complete AP classes list, divided by subject:
- Art History
- Music Theory
- Studio Art 2-D Design
- Studio Art 3-D Design
- Studio Art Drawing
- English Language and Composition
- English Literature and Composition
- European History
- United States History
- World History
- Comparative Government and Politics
- Human Geography
- United States Government and Politics
- Calculus AB
- Calculus BC
- Computer Science A
- Computer Science Principles
- Environmental Science
- Physics C Electricity and Magnetism
- Physics C Mechanics
- Physics 1 Algebra-Based
- Physics 2 Algebra-Based
World Languages & Cultures
- Chinese Language and Culture
- French Language and Culture
- German Language and Culture
- Italian Language and Culture
- Japanese Language and Culture
- Spanish Language and Culture
- Spanish Literature and Culture
It’s important to note, while not every high school offers every course, most have at least a handful of options available. In some cases, if a school has only a limited ability to offer AP classes on-site, they may allow students to access online AP courses instead.
For online advanced placement classes, it’s wise to have your student speak with their guidance counselor about available options. This ensures they are connected with an approved and reputable provider, guaranteeing the courses will help them graduate from high school and prepare them for the AP tests properly.
What are the Easiest AP Classes?
In reality, there is no such thing as the easiest AP classes. Which ones your student will excel in (and which ones will cause them to struggle) all depends on their personal aptitude and interests.
For example, a student who enjoys and understands math may do well in AP calculus. However, if your student barely made it through algebra, then AP classes for calculus probably aren’t right for them.
Usually, your student should only try AP courses in subjects they are confident in, giving them the best chance at success. These classes are challenging and are meant to reflect the college experience, so make sure your student only pursues AP options based on their strengths.
Can Anyone Take an AP Course?
Whether your student can take any particular AP class depends on their high school’s policies. Some schools require students to have a specific GPA overall or within a particular subject while others are more open to allowing any student to try.
While the idea of a school restricting a student from taking AP courses may upset some students and parents, it’s important to understand why these policies exist. High schools want their students to graduate – it’s their primary goal.
AP classes are harder than their counterparts. Since failing an AP class has the same impact as failing a regular course (meaning the student doesn’t earn the credits they need to graduate), the school has to try and determine whether a student could be successful.
If the school thinks the student has a strong chance at failing in an AP course and could pass a regular class, they might not allow that student to take the AP version so they can ensure the student will graduate on time.
What is an AP Test?
Every May, students have the opportunity to take AP tests. Each AP course (all 38) has its own exam, and each test is between two and three hours long.
Usually, AP exams are divided into two sections. The first is a multiple-choice segment, where students are scored based on the right answers they select (wrong and blank answers do not count against the test-taker).
The second portion features free-response questions. Your student could encounter essay, verbal/conversational, or problem-solution formats, depending on the AP subject involved.
After completing AP exams, your student receives AP test scores. The process isn’t unlike the SAT or ACT, where your student finishes their test and has to wait to find out how they did.
What are AP Scores?
AP scores are an assessment of your student’s performance. Every test receives a score between 1 and 5, with 5 being the highest.
Each AP exam is reviewed based on a weighted combination of the student’s responses in the multiple-choice and free-response sections.
The easiest way to view AP exam scores is online. They are published through the College Board website once they are ready. As long as your student scores a 3 (making them “qualified”), they could be eligible for college credit. However, scores of 4 and 5, “well qualified” and “extremely well qualified,” are more likely to lead to credit than a 3.
Each college decides which scores receive what credits or placements, including if the AP exam score translates to a letter grade or if your student just gets a basic credit. Your student needs to review the AP policies of their college to determine what impact AP tests could have on earning their degree.
How Much Do AP Exams Cost?
For most students, each AP exam costs $94. However, some schools charge more to cover proctoring or administrative costs associated with the test, like renting a space for the exam or offsetting the expense of opening a school room when it would usually be closed.
However, if your household has a significant financial need, the College Board offers a $32 fee reduction for each AP test. Whether you qualify depends on numerous factors, including your student’s state and the school they attend. In some cases, federal or state funds can reduce the costs further as well.
If you are worried about the cost of AP exams, have your student speak with their guidance counselor or AP coordinator.
How Many AP Classes Should I Take?
How many AP courses your student should take depends on their aptitude. Essentially, there is no magic number of AP classes. Instead, your student needs to examine which subjects they do well in, the rigor of their course load, the impact of extracurriculars or a part-time job, and family obligations.
AP courses do take more time and effort, and that usually means more homework and studying. It’s important to make sure your student isn’t overloaded, as that can increase stress and harm their overall high school performance.
Can You Take AP Exams without Taking the Class?
Yes, anyone can take an AP exam, even if they didn’t attend the AP class. The AP courses are designed to prepare the students for the test, so taking them is usually the best route. However, if your student is open to self-study or simply excels in a subject, they can certainly try.
There is no penalty for doing poorly on an AP exam. All it means is your student wouldn’t get college credit in that subject.
Are AP Classes Worth It?
By and large, AP classes are worth it. While they take additional energy (and potentially a small financial investment for exam fees), your student could earn college credit while they are in high school. If your student gets the right scores, the test fee could save them hundreds or thousands of dollars.
Plus, your student could improve their GPA by taking AP courses in their high-performance subjects. Most AP classes receive a weighted GPA score. For example, instead of an A counting as a 4.0, in an AP class, an A is usually scored as a 5.0. Bs become 4.0s instead of 3.0s, Cs become 3.0s instead of 2.0s, and so on.
Additionally, colleges don’t just review students’ GPAs when deciding who to admit; they also examine the difficulty level. For instance, if a student has a 3.2 GPA but took multiple AP courses, they may be admitted before a 3.5 student who didn’t take any AP classes, depending on the college’s scoring model.
Yes, AP classes are harder, but they could help your student get a head start on their college credits, raise their GPA, and get into their preferred school. It sounds like a win-win-win.
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