Maybe your high school doesn't offer an AP course you want to take, or even offer AP at all. Maybe you can't fit a certain AP course in your schedule. But you are not out of options. Here's how to find AP courses you can take online.
How Do Online Courses Work?
Online AP courses are very much like regular AP classes. You have a teacher, receive a syllabus, complete reading and homework assignments, read or listen to lectures, take exams, etc. The difference is that you take the course online at home or school.
Taking a well-thought-out online course consists of far more than reading text on a screen. It should include some combination of presentations, audio, video, animations, and discussions. Communication between teachers and students is done through online discussions, e-mail, and sometimes over the phone.
Do You Have What It Takes?
Succeeding in any AP class takes effort. With an online course you may need even more self-discipline and initiative. It may be difficult to motivate yourself without day-to-day contact with your teacher and fellow students. If you are comfortable working independently, however, you should do fine.
How Do You Find Online AP Courses?
Find out what AP options are available at your high school. Many high schools purchase or lease online AP courses from private firms. If your school is not participating in such a program, ask your teacher or counselor for recommendations.
Look at state-based programs. Most states have organized "virtual academies" that offer online courses, including AP. Visit your state's department of education website for details.
Consider courses offered by colleges and universities. Some universities, such as University of California, Northwestern, and Stanford offer online learning programs that include AP courses. Often, only state residents are eligible for these programs, so be sure to check with the program or your counselor to make sure you qualify.
Consider independent course providers. Companies that develop online programs for schools and districts will often let students take AP courses independently. Many of these courses are free, others cost a fee. The National Repository of Online Courses offers free AP courses in several disciplines. See the sidebar for a list of additional providers.
What Should You Know About an Online AP Course?
Will the course be led by a teacher? A strong online course should be led by a teacher qualified in the subject area. The teacher should be regularly available to help you with any instructional issues.
Will technical help be there when you need it? The course provider should be readily available to assist you if you run into technical or administrative problems.
Will you get high school credit? Check with your high school to make sure you will get credit for your work.
What will it cost? The cost of online AP courses varies. Some providers offer courses for free, others charge a fee. Often there is a separate charge for course materials and textbooks.
Is the course authorized by the College Board? The College Board designs all AP course requirements and exams. Only courses approved by the College Board can call themselves "AP" courses. If you want to take an online AP course not offered through your high school, check with your counselor, or with the College Board at (888) 225-5427, to make sure it is authorized.
What are the technology requirements? What are the minimum hardware and software requirements? Do you need to use (or avoid) particular operating systems, Web browsers, plug-ins, or media players?
What About AP Exams?
In May, you will take AP exams alongside classroom-based AP students. If you score 3 or higher on an AP exam, you may be able to earn college credit for your work, depending on your college's policy. Whether you took the AP course online or in the classroom makes absolutely no difference. What's important is that you took the extra initiative required to seek academic challenges beyond the walls of your school. And that's something colleges will notice and count in your favor.
For more information about AP courses and exams, visit the College Board.