If you are currently in high school in NYC, your school probably offers AP courses. You may know that they are “advanced” classes, with a final comprehensive test at the end, and you were probably told that you can earn college credit for taking them.
If you’re a good student who wants to save some time or money in college, or you want to have some more standardized test scores to flaunt on your college applications, this may sound like a great deal to you.
However, that is nothing close to the full story. Here are a few of the many things you should consider before signing up to take an AP course.
1. You might not get the college credit you think you will
Different colleges have different policies regarding AP credit. Some will allow you to earn credit and avoid taking a course altogether. Others might only let you skip the introductory course in a sequence. Also, colleges might require different scores in order to earn credit, or award credit differently depending on your score.
Take, a CUNY for example. At Hunter College, for many courses, a 4 or 5 on the corresponding AP exam will count as having taken the course, but a 3 will only count as having taken an elective. Other CUNYs and some SUNYs have similar policies. Some elite universities, on the other hand, like Harvard or Stanford, may only accept 5s for all or most APs. And, some colleges will not grant any credit, and may essentially ignore any AP scores. These colleges include Brown, Harvey Mudd, and Caltech, among others.
Although AP courses can earn you credit and save you some money, you have to do the specific research for your intended colleges to ensure your AP scores will be accepted.
2. AP exams are not like other standardized tests
You most likely will not be able to retake an AP exam. They are only offered once per year. You have to commit to taking it seven months in advance, before you have learned almost any of the material. It costs $94, more than the SAT, any SAT subject tests, or a CLEP exam, which can also grant college credits, all of which are also offered by the CollegeBoard.
Additionally, they are not all multiple-choice, so you will have to provide at least a few written answers, and if your school or teachers don’t prepare you for this, you will have to do the extra preparation for it yourself. You will have to be able to do this well, because, as stated before, you may be unable to retake it.
3. AP courses are more work (probably)
At my high school, Stuyvesant, our homework policy allows for up to one hour of homework per night per AP course. It rarely amounts to more homework than any other course. However, you will likely be expected to master much more material than in a typical high school course. Depending on your work ethic, that could mean anything from spending an extra ten minutes reviewing notes every few days to spending hours every week just trying to understand half the material that you are responsible for that was not and will not be covered in class, that you will be tested on, nonetheless.
All of this means:
You should only take AP courses in subjects that you are actually interested in. You do not want to be in a position where you paid nearly $100 to take a test in a subject you don’t like and you’re spending hours every week trying to keep up in a class you didn’t even need to take. Your grades will suffer and you will likely not do as well on the AP as you would hope. If you don’t like a subject or know you won’t do well, do not take an AP course. Either take the corresponding regular placement course or don’t take it at all. Your GPA and circadian rhythms will thank you.
4. Your school may have rules of which you are not aware
At Stuyvesant, no late testing is offered at all, under any circumstances. Were you hit by a car on the way to school on the day of the AP exam? Too bad. You can have a partial refund and you have to wait until next year when you’ll have a one-week window in which to convince the Assistant Principal of the appropriate department to grant you a waiver to take an AP exam despite not being enrolled in the course. Oh, you’re a senior or maybe the CollegeBoard redesigned the test? Well, you’re in quite the pickle.
Make sure you know all of your school’s policies regarding AP exams. It may not be consistent with what is on the CollegeBoard’s website. I found that out the hard way.
I hope you’ve learned something, and remember: this is not as simple as many people make it out to be. Do your own research, and understand your unique situation and what it means for your AP future.
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