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AP Classes: To take or not to take?

As high school students begin to sign up for fall classes, it's time to consider whether your child should register for an Advanced Placement course next year. Most students have their first chance to take an AP class in their junior year.

The AP curriculum, administered by The College Board, consists of standardized high school courses that are roughly equivalent to undergraduate college courses. After completing an AP class, students typically take the AP exam in that subject, which can earn them credits and accelerated placement in college.

To help your family decide if an AP course is right for your child, we answer some frequently asked questions about Advanced Placement:

Why take an AP class?

  • Be challenged. Advanced Placement classes are rigorous and demanding, offering an intellectual stimulation that students won't get in regular high school courses.
  • Improve college admissions chances. AP classes will raise the "wow" factor of a student's high school record. If a student does well in an AP class, it's a signal to admissions counselors that he or she is ready for the pressures of college study.
  • Arrive at college better prepared. AP classes sharpen students' writing skills, teach them how to think critically, and improve their problem-solving abilities. AP students learn to navigate the academic expectations they'll encounter in college courses.
  • Earn college credit. AP exams are scored on a scale of 1 (lowest) through 5 (highest). If a student earns a 3 or higher, he or she can receive course credits, advanced placement, or both upon arriving at college. AP policies vary from school to school, but the majority of colleges in the U.S. (as well as colleges and universities in 40 other countries) grant credit and/or accelerated placement for AP exams.
  • Win scholarships. AP courses and exam scores help students qualify for scholarships. According to The College Board, 31 percent of colleges and universities look at AP experience when making scholarship decisions.
  • Save money. Students with AP experience and credits are more likely to graduate from college in four years. Extra semesters (or years) at college can put a heavy financial burden on families.

Who should take an AP class?
The Advanced Placement experience is not for every student. Before choosing to enroll your child in an AP course, consider these factors:

  • Your child's past performance in the subject area. If a student has always excelled at science, AP Chemistry may be a great idea. On the other hand, if he or she tends to struggle in math, AP Calculus might be too much of an ordeal.
  • Your child's skills. AP courses in the humanities-English, history, philosophy, etc.-require heavy amounts of reading and writing. Is your student prepared for long, difficult reading assignments, multiple essays, and in-depth research papers?
  • Your child's schedule. A student who plays sports year-round, holds leadership positions in one or more extracurricular activities, and/or has a part-time job may find it difficult to meet the sizeable obligations of an AP class.
  • Your child's GPA. No student should take an AP course if it's likely to lower his or her overall GPA. College admissions officers want to see students taking challenging courses, but they also want to see strong grades. If your child is worried about maintaining decent grades in an AP course, it might be wise to stay with an honors course.

Which academic subjects are available as AP courses?
AP classes are offered in 34 subjects, including Environmental Science, Psychology, and Chinese Language and Culture. A complete list is available at The College Board. Ask your school counselor which AP classes your school offers.

How many AP classes should my child take?
For success in college admissions, there is no "magic number" of AP courses; it will depend on the individual student. If your child is highly ambitious and wants to take four AP classes in one semester, advise him or her to slow down! It's important to strike a balance between work and play. Some high schools, in fact, limit the number of AP courses a student can take. As a Washington Post article on AP classes cautions, "I know high school students who literally have no social life and enormous anxiety because they spend practically every waking hour doing school work."

What if my child's school doesn't offer AP courses?
Ask your school counselor if your child has the option to enroll in an AP course at a neighboring high school. It's also possible for a student to take an AP exam (and receive college credit) without taking the AP course in that subject. Consult your school's school counselor if this is something your child is considering.

How much do AP courses & exams cost?
There is no charge for AP classes; they are available as part of the high school curriculum. The fee for each AP exam is $87. Fee reductions and refunds are available; for more information, click here.

What if my child is already enrolled in an AP course?
A small number of students take Advanced Placement courses as sophomores. If your child is already enrolled in one or more AP classes, remember that the AP exams are coming up in May. To access exam prep materials at The College Board, click here. If you are interested in learning about StudyPoint's AP exam tutoring, click here.

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