1. Education

Are AP Courses Worth It?

Or Are They Simply Risky?

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There are currently 37 AP courses and exams that students can take. But some students are confused and even anxious when it comes to taking AP courses in high school.

AP Courses Risky?

There are so many questions lurking out there in the minds of parents and students about AP courses! And this is no surprise, considering the cutthroat culture of competition for college admission slots. So will tougher AP courses put your grade point average at risk? Will your chosen college even recognize your AP scores?

There is no straightforward answer, because there is no consistent rule when it comes to colleges, AP courses and grades. Some discriminating colleges do look for weighty AP courses on your transcripts, and they expect to see high grades and high exam scores to match. If you are looking at a very discriminating college, you will want to take this into consideration.

Officials at these colleges know how to analyze a transcript and they will recognize students who take on a rigorous schedule. They know that some high schools are very demanding and others are not. If you're looking at competitive schools with very high standards, you will want to push yourself and sign up for the most challenging classes.

Then there are other colleges. Some colleges—many of these are state universities—do not necessarily look closely at the types of classes you took. They don’t make allowance for the fact that your AP course was tougher than a standard class would have been. They don’t recognize that it is harder to earn a high score in an AP course, and they don't weight classes. They take a (seemingly unfair) straightforward approach to calculating GPAs.

For this reason, students may be taking a big risk by overextending themselves with too many rigorous courses. Three A’s and one D in an all-AP schedule is simply three A’s and a D to some university officials. And if you are taking three or four AP courses at one time, there is a good chance that one of them will consume much of your time and leave you with little time for the others. A bad grade or two is likely.

AP courses are hard. The requirements are set by the College Board and the courses are fast-paced and intensive. If you sign up for too many AP courses at one time, you are limiting the amount of time you can devote to studying for each exam. So if you aren’t committed to working hard and giving up some of your fun time for each class you sign up for, you should think twice.

And What About AP Course Credit?

Colleges do not necessarily award credit for AP courses because they don’t believe that AP courses are equivalent to their own courses. Before you take an AP course, check the policy of your individual college of choice and see where they stand.

There is concern among many college officials that, by skipping over introductory courses with AP credit, students can plunge themselves into advanced courses that they just can’t handle. That situation can lead to unnecessary struggles and eventual dropout.

Colleges consider AP credit very carefully, and may give credit for some AP courses but not others. For example, a college may not credit students with freshman-level English for an AP English Literature and Composition course, because the administration has decided that AP credit is not sufficient preparation for college-level writing. They merely want to ensure that all students start off with a strong writing foundation—so they choose to require all students to take theircollege English.

On the other hand, that same college may award credit for AP Psychology and Art History.

Which AP Courses Are Most Risky?

There are a few common reasons that colleges don’t give credit for certain AP courses. You can use this list as a guideline when you research AP requirements at your college of choice.

  • Colleges may require World History as a core area, so students who take American History and European History AP courses and expect credit could be out of luck.
  • Colleges may not award credit for AP lab science courses.
  • Some colleges limit the number of AP credits each student will receive. If you have five "5s" you may have to choose two or three that you want to use as credit.
  • Some colleges incorporate state history or state government into their own US history and government courses. For this reason, the US Government and Politics AP class would not include equivalent material. You could end up with elective credit.
  • Some of the courses that are offered as AP courses simply don't appear in a certain college's curriculum. For example, if Latin Literature is not offered at a college, that college won't award graduation credit for that AP test.

So Am I Wasting My Time With AP Courses?

You are never wasting your time in a great learning experience. But there may be times when you are doing extra work that isn't going to lead to an earlier graduation date.

There are usually two types of course credit awarded as you pursue a college degree. One type is program credit which fits into a degree program curriculum. Each time you earn credit that fits into your degree program, you are moving closer to graduation.

Some credits don’t really fill a slot in your program. Those courses are called electives. Elective courses are extra courses that take up time but don’t necessarily move you forward to graduation. AP credits sometimes end up as elective credits.

For a few reasons, then, taking an AP course can be risky. It is a good idea to plan ahead and study the policies and the curriculum of every college you are considering. Know what courses are likely to earn credit before you sign up for an AP course.

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