AP Classes: What, Why, How Many?

Now is the time to start thinking about what Advanced Placement (AP) classes you’re going to take. The AP curriculum consists of standardized high school courses that are somewhat equivalent to undergraduate college courses. After completing an AP class, you typically take an AP exam in that subject, which can earn you college credits and accelerated placement in college.

Most students take their first AP class in their junior year, but freshmen and sophomores sometimes take them, too. 

Why take an AP class?

Be challenged. There are more than 30 different AP-certified courses including computer science, European history, psychology, music theory, and Chinese language and culture, although your high school may only offer some of these. We advise students to take courses based on their interests, their college major, and-or their career goals. For example, students who want to major in engineering may take all the math and science courses, but skip the history. Subjects can also help you determine a direction for your academic career.

Improve college admissions chances. AP classes say to college admissions officers that you’re ready for college-level work. Colleges also want to see that you have taken the most challenging courses available to you. Colleges rank grades and academic rigor over most other factors on the college application, including standardized test scores. If you plan to go to a competitive school, taking AP courses is crucial.

Be better prepared for college. AP classes cover more material than traditional courses, are faster-paced, and hone skills like critical thinking, research, writing, and analysis.

Boost GPA. Many schools give weight to AP grades when calculating GPA. AP courses can be worth as much as 6.0 for an A rather than the usual 4.0. School policies differ on this.

Save money. Get some college credits completed without having to pay the full price you would while enrolled in college.

Earn college credit and/or Placement. AP exams are scored on a scale of 1 (lowest) through 5 (highest). If you earn a 3 or higher, you can receive course credits and/or advanced placement at most colleges in the U.S. and in other countries. You may be able to skip a required introductory course in college and you can take something else.

Win scholarships. AP courses and exam scores help you qualify for scholarships.

How many AP classes to take?

For college admissions success, there is no “magic number” of AP courses a student should take because course availability differs so much from high school to high school.  For less selective colleges and state schools, the number of AP classes you take should be determined by your goals, like skipping introductory courses. Most state schools accept AP classes for credit but don’t require them for admission. For more selective schools – or honors programs and scholarships at state schools – it’s important to show you are taking the most challenging courses available to you, which includes AP courses. Importantly, colleges do not favor applicants with the most AP courses if they drag down the GPA and/or the exams are failed. As a general rule, you should aim for the following AP class numbers:

Most Selective Schools (Top 20): Take APs as most or all of the core courses. Also take AP courses that relate to your goals, interests and/or future major. AP course total typically between 7 and 12 courses.

Selective Schools (Top 100): Take APs as most core courses, plus one or two additional courses. AP course total typically between 4 and 8 courses.

Less Selective Schools: Take APs as some core courses, or in courses related to your projected major. AP course total typically between 1 and 5 courses.

What if my school doesn’t offer an AP course?

If your school doesn’t offer AP courses there are other options. It’s possible to take an AP exam (and receive college credit) without taking the AP course in that subject.  However, the best preparation for an AP Exam is an authorized AP course. Ask your guidance counselor if you can enroll in an AP course at another high school or in a class at a local college. Taking an online AP course may also be a possibility. To locate authorized AP online providers, you and your advisor may search the AP Course Ledger. Another option is to prepare for AP Exams on your own via self-study either alone or working with a teacher, parent or tutor who allows you to do an independent project that challenges you beyond what is offered. If you choose to study for the AP exam alone, get familiar with the course material and exam format by reviewing the detailed information for each AP course. Review the course description and try the sample questions from prior exams available for each subject.

New AP Course and Changes

A new AP course in Computer Science Principles (AP CSP) launches this year in the fall. According to the College Board website, this new course is designed to give students foundational computing skills, and an understanding of the real-world impact of computer programming and innovations.

Other course changes taking effect in the 2016-17 school year are updates to the AP Calculus AB and BC courses and exam. In the case of AP Calculus, the College Board said that there will only be minor changes. The format of the AP World History Exam will be revised and there are also minor revisions to the AP World History course.

For more information on AP courses or exams or high school course schedules or for information on college admissions, visit http://www.internationalcollegecounselors.com or call 954 414-9986.