Taking Advanced Placement (AP) courses shows admission staff that you are seeking the challenge of college-level work. And that's just one of the many benefits of AP. Find out why taking AP is worth all the hard work.
Advanced Placement (AP) courses are designed to be the equivalent of entry-level college courses. Each course covers a standard curriculum tied to a comprehensive final exam. There are over 30 AP courses covering more than 20 subject areas, ranging from art history to physics. The College Board (which also administers the PSAT and SAT programs) administers the AP program, including AP exams.
Benefits of AP
College credit. Your AP exam score may earn you college credit and placement in more advanced college courses, saving you time and money. More than 75 percent of the colleges featured on CollegeData offer credit and/or placement to students who achieve qualifying scores on AP exams. Students can complete an AP course and choose not to take the final exam, but they will not earn college credit for the AP coursework. The only way to earn college credit is to take the AP exam and achieve a qualifying score.
Higher GPA. Grades earned in AP courses are often "weighted," meaning your high school will award an additional grade point to your AP course grade. Some weighted high school GPAs are above 4.0. If your high school doesn't award extra grade points for AP courses, colleges will still note your performance in those courses when evaluating your application.
Stronger college applications. Taking AP courses demonstrates that you have taken advantage of the academic challenges available to you in high school. Just how much this helps your chances of admission depends on how selective the college is, how good your AP test scores are, and how consistently you took the most rigorous course load possible.
How to Get Started with AP
AP courses are available mostly to juniors and seniors, although a few courses may be available to you as early as your sophomore year. Eligibility requirements for AP classes are different for every high school, and students usually need prior approval from their counselor or the AP instructor before enrolling in a course. To qualify, students generally must have a strong academic record and have previously performed well in the subject area.
Talk to an AP teacher or the AP coordinator at your school about the courses you want to take. Discuss the course workload and any preparation you might need.
If your high school does not offer an AP course you want to take, or you are a homeschooled student, you can still take AP courses. Each year hundreds of students participate through independent study and online courses. See our article Take AP Online for more information about online providers.
Taking AP Exams
AP exams are two to three hours long and consist of multiple-choice and free-response (essay) questions. You are not required to take an AP course before taking an AP exam, but a strong preparatory program of study is highly recommended. Visit the AP Test Prep section of the CollegeData Bookstore, where you'll find more than 25 different books on specific AP tests.
Each AP exam is offered once a year in May. Everyone across the country takes the same test on the same day. Information about exam dates and fees is available from the College Board. You will register for the exams directly with your high school teacher, counselor, or AP coordinator. In most cases, exams will be given at your school.
If you are a homeschooled student or attend a school that does not offer AP, you can arrange to take AP tests at a participating school. Contact the College Board by March 1 to get the names and telephone numbers of local AP coordinators.
Your AP Scores
AP exams are graded on a scale of 1-5. A score of 3 is generally considered a "qualifying" score, which means that you have demonstrated mastery of the subject area and may be eligible to earn college credit for your work. The amount and type of credit you earn may vary depending on the college's own policy. For specific policies, check with the college. You can also find summaries of AP credit policies for different colleges on the College Board website.
Sending Your Scores to Colleges
You will receive your score report in July. All your AP scores will be included in the score report, unless you request that a particular score be withheld. The College Board will send your scores free of charge to one college of your choice and to additional colleges for a fee.
AP courses require a substantial commitment of your time and effort, but undertaking the challenge will pay off. Regardless of whether or not you end up earning credit for college, AP courses can give you an important advantage in college admissions and a head start on your college education.
For more information about AP courses and exams, visit the College Board.