Today's high school students have more options than ever to earn
college credit prior to graduation and to take higher-level courses that can
better prepare them for college. One popular option is the Advanced Placement
(AP) program, which students can take starting in their junior year.
60 percent of U.S. high schools and 15,000 high schools worldwide offer Advanced
Placement classes. There are more than 35 different AP courses in 22 subject
areas -- everything from chemistry and calculus to Japanese language and culture.
The program is run by a non-profit membership organization called the College Board.
AP classes are designed to prepare
high school students for the rigors of college-level work. To see if your
high school offers approved AP courses, check the College Board's AP Course Ledger.
After students complete an AP
class, for which they earn high school credit, they can take the AP exam.
The exams take place every year in May.
It's also possible to take
an AP test without taking the class. If students are home-schooled or if their
school doesn't offer a particular AP class, they can still arrange to take
an exam. They still earn credit if they get a good score on the exam.
on how students score and what college they plan to attend, they can earn
academic credit or "test out" of a college class. It can mean fewer assignments
to juggle come college time and possibly even some financial savings.
classes are free, but it costs $84 to take an exam. For low-income students,
the fee is usually reduced or entirely paid for through state and federal
funds or assistance from the College Board, according to the Board's website.
Student exams receive a score ranging
from 5 to 1, with 5 being the equivalent of A-level college work. Many colleges
accept scores from 3 and up, while more selective schools only consider 4s
and 5s as worthy of credit or placement. The scores are reported to the college
of the student's choice, unless the student chooses to have them withheld.
College, a private liberal arts college in Northfield, Minnesota, is one of
the more selective schools. Admissions dean Paul Thiboutot says that each
college department determines what score is acceptable for credit, but it's
generally either 4s or 5s.
Colleges like Carleton are interested in
prospective students who are taking the most academically challenging classes
available and are doing well in them, Thiboutot says. These could be AP classes
or another type of advanced class.
However, if students aren't prepared
to do the work required to do well in an advanced class, they should think
twice about enrolling in one. They also should keep in mind that colleges
are interested in more than just test scores. If taking a number of advanced
classes prevents students from participating in other activities they enjoy,
or from taking a class that really interests them, they might want to reevaluate
"We certainly encourage students to take AP courses
and other advanced courses. We also encourage students not to lose sight of
having a little fun in high school," Thiboutot says.
Alex Bulitt took
four AP classes between his sophomore and senior years at Roxbury Latin School,
a private school in Boston for boys in grades 7-12.
Now a senior at
Stanford University, Bulitt says all students at his former school were required
to take the AP class in U.S. history. He also took AP classes and the corresponding
exams in statistics, calculus BC and politics. He took two additional AP exams
in physics and chemistry, which earned him college credit or placement.
school did not offer any AP-level classes in the sciences," Bulitt says. "[My
school's own] sophomore year's regular physics class -- there was only one
level available -- prepared me very well for the [AP] Physics A exam. Ten
to 15 of my classmates joined me in taking that test. Chemistry, I took this
way as well. Only two of us took this exam, but we both acquitted ourselves
A guidance counselor recommended to Luther College sophomore
Cavan Krekelberg that he sign up for AP classes when he was in high school.
Krekelberg says the chance to obtain college credit was but one of the reasons
he did take the AP classes. He also liked the fact that the AP coursework
was more challenging.
Krekelberg took three of the four AP classes offered
at his public high school in Minnesota. On his AP exams, he received a score
of 4 in both psychology and biology, which Luther accepted for credit. His
score of 3 on the English literature exam didn't meet Luther's requirements
for credit, although some schools do accept 3s.
"If you're toying with
the notion of going for an AP class, I say do it," says Krekelberg, a music
education major. "It can't really hurt you, as long as you're willing to do
the work. Getting college credit from high school classes is invaluable, too."
you're interested in taking an AP class, try to talk to your guidance counselor
about it during your sophomore year or early in your junior year
before you select your 11th grade classes.