As you start planning for college, you might be encouraged to register for AP classes.
With a more rigorous curriculum than the average high school class, AP classes help you stand out during college admissions and earn you college credits before even setting foot on campus.
So what exactly are AP classes, and why do they matter? Below, we’ll determine what makes these classes different and how they can help you fast-track your journey to college and beyond.
What are AP classes?
AP, which stands for Advanced Placement, is a program that allows high school students to earn college credits by taking higher-level classes in various subjects. The AP program is run by the College Board, the same organization that designs and administers the SAT.
AP classes are designed to give students the experience of college-level courses, meaning the subject matter is often more complex than standard high school classes. Each course culminates in an AP exam that could earn students college credit if they pass with a high enough score to meet their college’s requirements.
While the AP program has been around since the 1950s, it has seen rapid growth in the last few decades. Today, the College Board offers AP classes in 38 different subjects, and many students take multiple AP classes throughout their high school career.
While AP offerings differ from school to school (and not every AP course is offered in each school), the program does offer a reasonably wide variety of classes.
STEM buffs can take courses like:
- AP Calculus (AB and BC)
- Computer Science
- Or Physics
Students who prefer social sciences and language arts can try their hand at:
- AP English Literature & Composition
- US History
- Or Government & Politics.
There are even AP courses focused on world languages like Spanish, Japanese, or even Latin.
It’s essential to check in with your school’s AP coordinator to see which AP courses your school offers and plan your schedule accordingly.
What are AP exams?
AP classes are meant to prepare students for AP exams, which are offered each May. These classes test students’ knowledge in the related subject — most AP exams include a mix of multiple-choice, short answer, and essay components.
AP exams are scored on a scale of 1 to 5, and anything above a 3 is considered a passing score. Most accredited U.S. colleges and universities offer credit for students who pass their AP exams, although each school has different policies on exactly how this credit is awarded.
For example, students who receive a 4 or 5 on the AP English Literature & Composition exam are eligible for 4-semester units of elective credit.
Want to learn more?
The College Board offers a comprehensive AP Credit Policy Search tool that lets students explore credit offerings for various AP courses and universities.
Students have to request that the College Board send their AP score report to the college they’ll be attending to receive credit. From there, the school will let them know about any credits or course exemptions they’ve earned with their AP exam scores.
It’s possible to take an AP exam without enrolling in the corresponding course, but this generally isn’t a good idea — AP courses are specifically designed to prepare students for these tests, so students are more likely to meet their score goals with the proper preparation.
How do you sign up for AP classes and AP exams?
If your high school participates in the AP program, you’ll be able to sign up for AP courses during class registration each year.
Every school has an AP coordinator (usually a guidance counselor) who helps walk students through the AP process. Contact them for any specific questions. Some schools may have prerequisite courses that students must take before enrolling in certain AP classes.
Each AP exam costs $94, although the College Board does offer $32 fee reductions to eligible students. Some schools also provide subsidies for AP exam fees, so check with your local AP coordinator to learn more about your options.
$94 might seem steep, but it could be a money saver in the long run. A high passing grade might allow you to skip an intro-level college course and might even help you graduate early.
How do AP classes help you get into college?
Because AP classes are more challenging than standard high school courses, they show colleges that you take your education seriously. Not only do AP classes create a robust academic transcript, but high scores on AP exams can show colleges that you’re proficient in an advanced subject.
Many schools treat AP classes differently when calculating a student’s grade point average (GPA). Rather than the traditional 4.0 scale, AP classes are weighted on a 5.0 scale — in an AP class, an A is equivalent to 5.0 instead of 4.0, and a B is equal to 4.0 instead of 3.0.
This means students who take AP courses can end up with a GPA higher than 4.0, which can set them apart when applying to colleges. It also means students don’t get penalized for challenging themselves — for example, a B in AP Latin would still count as a 4.0 in a student’s weighted GPA.
Taking AP classes is also a great way to show colleges where your passions lie. For example, If you plan to major in political science or apply to law school someday, taking AP US History, AP Economics, or AP US Government can show colleges that you’re serious about these subjects.
How can AP classes help you in college?
As we discussed earlier, one massive benefit of AP courses is their ability to help you earn college credit and even test out of intro-level college courses.
At some schools, getting AP credits will help you graduate earlier — for example, the University of Michigan grants students Advanced Standing for a wide range of AP credits. This can save students thousands of dollars in the long term since the $94 AP exam fees are less costly than a semester’s tuition at most U.S. universities.
Keep in mind that AP guidelines vary for each college or university. Some schools only offer college credit for courses in certain subjects, and some offer credits but don’t let students use them to meet gen-ed requirements.
To see what your college of choice offers in the way of AP credit guidelines, check out the College Board policy search tool.
Whether you want to beef up your GPA, challenge yourself in your favorite subject, or collect college credits to make room for a double major in college, AP classes are a great way to set yourself up for success in high school, college, and beyond.