High school Guidance counselors often encourage students to take AP classes. Are they right?
It’s almost considered a truism: Advanced Placement courses and subject tests can only help you in your quest to enter the best colleges.
Not so fast. AP classes have advantages – but there are drawbacks as well.
The Positives of Advanced Placement
- Taking an AP class will usually get your GPA increased. Depending how your particular school rates them, AP classes can be worth a full grade more than their regular kin – that’s how some students end up with GPAs greater than the theoretically-perfect 4.0. And even if your school doesn’t inflate AP grades, many college admission offices will do it for you.
- Good AP scores can reduce your eventual college course load – and, potentially, your time in college. Generally speaking, a high score – at least three, but often a four or five out of the five-point Advance Placement test – will equate to one semester of the equivalent course. So, if you place out of four courses – you could skip out of an entire semester of college – saving up to $25,000! Even placing out of one or two classes can lead to a semester of part-time student status and, hence, significant savings.
- AP classes show initiative. By taking the more challenging path, schools know you aren’t scared to push yourself. In addition, since AP classes are supposed to be college level, you are showing schools that you are fully capable of doing the necessary work.
The Negatives of Advanced Placement
- Your AP scores have zero bearing on your admissions. That’s a whole lot of work that may not have much to do with which college you get into – especially if your colleges don’t inflate grades according to the difficulty of courses.
- Not all colleges accept AP scores for course credit. If you wind up applying to schools that don’t accept AP scores and don’t bump up GPAs for AP classes, then you’ll have done a lot of work for absolutely nothing.
- AP classes and study takes an inordinate amount of time. It isn’t unusual to have two or three hours of homework out of an AP class. That’s time you can’t pursue other studies, can’t devote to extra-curriculars, and can’t practice for the SAT – all things that definitely will help you get into college.
The long and the short of it is this: AP courses can pay off in the long run, but there are no guarantees. And, in the short run, they are certain to make the rest of your life difficult.
If you are most concerned with getting into the best colleges, AP courses aren’t much help at all. If, however, you are confident you’ll get in somewhere good, and want to roll the dice that they’ll take AP credits and you can save by graduating early or as a part-time student, AP courses are worth their weight in gold.
As always, the answer depends on you. One thing is certain though – when deciding whether to pursue AP courses, at least find out how your favorite colleges deal with AP credits. If there’s no hope of placing out, then it isn’t worth your time.
[i] Excerpted from Scott Weingold, College Made Simple – The Free Educational Resource of College Planning Network, LLC