It’s that time of year again, when high school students must frantically juggle preparing for final exams, AP exams, and the last administrations of the SAT/ACT/SAT Subject Tests. There is a lot going on! And as you carefully plot out the next several weeks, you may be asking yourself, are AP exams really worth it? The answer, unfortunately, is yes, they really are worth it.
So let’s start with the basics, what are AP classes? As a College Compass acolyte, you are undoubtedly already familiar with AP classes (having taken literally a bajillion already), but if you are not a regular reader, AP stands for Advanced Placement. Advanced Placement classes are basically honors classes whose material has been standardized by College Board. These classes are roughly equivalent to undergraduate college classes. Oftentimes, AP classes are weighted; if you are taking an AP class you probably have both an unweighted and weighted GPA, where your AP grades count for +1 letter grade or equivalent more towards your GPA (so, for example, a letter grade of B in an AP class would count as an A toward your cumulative GPA). If you take an AP class, or in fact even if you do not, you can register to take AP exams at the end of the year. If you score well enough on an AP exam (usually a score of 4 or 5 out of 5), many universities will award you college level credit based on that score – meaning you do not have to take that class as a college student! More on that later.
Okay, so now we know what AP classes and exams are, but are AP classes required for college? The answer is yes and no. No university, including extremely prestigious universities like Harvard, will absolutely require you to have completed AP exams to be considered for admission. This is a particularly important and relevant fact for those students who do not have access to AP classes. However, these types of schools do typically expect – read: require – competitive applicants to complete the most challenging possible curriculum available to them. This means if your school does offer AP classes, and you want to go to an Ivy League school, then you better take them. Most competitive applicants to the Ivy League will complete approximately 10 AP classes across four years of high school, earning scores of 4 or 5 on all AP exams taken.
Read More About Ivy League Admissions Here: What does it really take to get into the Ivy League? Part III: AP, IB, and SAT II Exams
But what about less competitive private school or a public university, are they going to require AP exams? No, probably not, unless you are specifically applying to an honors college. Even then it is unlikely that they will require AP exams, however, as with more competitive private schools it is likely that an honors college will expect you to complete the most rigorous course schedule available to you.
So, if I’m applying to a less competitive school or a public university, what is the benefit of taking AP classes and exams? Aside from making you a more competitive applicant to your schools of choice, and probably making you a better educated, more well-rounded person, there are substantial real-world benefits to completing AP exams. Specifically, as mentioned above, many public or less competitive universities will offer college credit for students who score a 4 or 5 on AP exams. This is significant for a number of reasons, the most important of which is the $$$ you will save. College is really expensive! If you even casually watch the news, you probably already know that debt from student loans is now the most prevalent form of personal debt. In fact, nearly 70% of bachelor’s degree recipients leave school with debt. By taking and doing well on AP exams, you will potentially save yourself thousands of dollars in the form of earned college credit. In addition to saving on the costs of college, coming in to college with earned credit should allow you the opportunity to graduate early, which in turn will allow you to join the workforce early, which in turn will allow you to start your professional career earlier, which will allow you to earn more over the course of your career, etc. The moral of this story is taking AP classes and exams is a good thing.
So now we know what APs are and why we should take them, but what if you get a bad score on an AP exam? It’s not the end of the world! Yes, top colleges will expect their applicants to take and score high on AP exams, but one or two low scores will not ruin your chances of admission to the Ivy League. You can request that particular score reports be withheld from the colleges you are applying to, just contact College Board directly.
The last item to cover in our conversation about AP exams is how do you prepare for AP exams? Test Masters’ Exam Club is one of the best resources available for students looking to prepare for just about any standardized test, it includes SAT/PSAT, ACT, SAT II, and AP exams. This is not exactly groundbreaking advice, but practice, practice, practice!