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AP Courses… Are They Worth It?

Student reading a bookIt’s the time of the year again when high school students must decide which courses to take for the coming school year.  With college looming ahead, making wise choices is imperative in order to reduce time and money spent on college and to be competitive for scholarship awards.  But, does being “wise” mean that your student sign up for available AP courses?  With numerous articles both encouraging and cautioning AP courses available on the internet, I’ve attempted to summarize both sides below.

What are AP Courses?

AP, or Advances Placement, courses are college-level courses taught in a high school setting designed to challenge students above and beyond a high school level.  The requirements, workload, and exams are designed and regulated by College Board.

The Pros of AP Courses

AP courses are a good choice to consider for students who perform well in honors level courses (A’s and B’s) or for students who get straight A’s in regular College Prep classes and need or desire more challenging material.  Because AP courses are weighted differently than CP courses, students can increase their GPA as well as their class rank.  This could be beneficial when being considered for scholarships.  And, beyond GPA and class rank, taking AP courses demonstrates hard work which is equally, if not more, important to most colleges.

Taking AP courses also offers the opportunity to gain college credit by taking an AP exam.  Students who score above a 3 (on a scale of 1-5) are considered to be qualified to receive college credit for that course upon entering college.  This effectively can decrease the amount of time in college which, in turn, can decrease the out-of-pocket expense.

The Cons of AP Courses

With the rigors of AP courses comes a lot of stress, therefore they are not appropriate for all students; nor is it necessarily appropriate for a student to load up on AP classes that may not interest them just for the sake of increasing their GPA.  Most colleges prefer un-weighted GPAs and some might even request an un-weighted transcript or recalculate the GPA of core classes on their own.  In that case, earning a C in an AP courses might not be looked on favorably by a selective college.  This varies greatly from college to college.

Regarding college credit, that too varies widely from school to school.  Some colleges do not limit the number of credits that a student can bring in with AP courses.  However, other schools are more limiting.  Dartmouth college, for example, recently announced that beginning Fall 2014, it will no longer grant any college credit for AP examinations.

In summary, with over 30 possible AP courses available for high schools to offer, students have more opportunity than ever before to advance their education and potentially save time and money on their out-of-pocket expense for college.  However, a common sense approach to the number and types of AP courses taken should be utilized for each individual student.  Parents need to help their children evaluate what subjects interest them and how many AP courses they can take and be successful at while staying informed of the current policies for their college of choice.

Sources:

http://www.collegeboard.com/student/testing/ap/about.html

http://www.examiner.com/article/are-ap-courses-worth-the-effort

http://www.nytimes/com/2013/01/18/education/dartmouth-stops-credits-for-excelling-on-ap-test.html

http://www.usnews.com/education/high-schools/articles/2012/05/10/weigh-the-benefits-stress-of-ap-courses-for-your-student

This blog was provided by Emily Kelly of College Planning Relief from their March 2014 e-newsletter.

Photo Credit: UGL_UIUC

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