If you or anyone in your family are currently in high school, you must have heard of Advanced Placement (AP) classes or exams. From AP tests vs. AP classes to how many APs should you take, in this article, Insight’s Head of College Admissions Counseling Purvi Mody explains all the essential facts you need to know about APs and their role in college admissions.
(Prefer to watch a video instead? CLICK HERE to watch Purvi’s interview on all you need to know about APs)
Why AP classes in the first place?
AP classes are college-level courses that you can take during your high school years. Taking AP courses is one of the many ways you can show that you are ready for challenging academic materials, as well as your interest in a particular school subject. You can focus on subjects that you may want to pursue in college, such as taking AP Computer Science if you are interested in CS-related majors. Taking AP classes may also be a way to show your talents outside of academic interest. If you really love Psychology, you can incorporate AP Psychology in your schedule. The key is that APs can show your content knowledge and your ability to be successful at higher-level courses.
What’s the difference between AP exams and AP classes?
AP exams and AP classes are two distinct things. An AP class is like any class you’ve taken in your high school or online school; the class has grades, a structured curriculum, assignments, quizzes, and tests. The grade that you get from your AP class is on your transcript, and colleges can see these grades.
The AP exam is a two- or three-hour long test that you take to demonstrate your knowledge of the subject that you’ve been learning for the past academic year. The AP tests are typically held during the first two weeks of May. These exams are scored on a scale of 1-5, with a score of 3 or higher being a passing score. Unlike AP classes, you can self-report AP test scores. How should you report your AP exam scores then? We recommend our students report their highest AP scores, so report anything above a 3.
How many APs should I take?
This is the most popular question we get, and the answer is “it depends”. There is no magic number when it comes to AP classes or exams. It varies from student to student, and it also varies from school to school. Some private high schools offer no AP classes at all! The three golden rules to pick the right classes for you are interest, growth, and challenge. You want to pick courses that you are interested in while selecting the classes that you will thrive in. Lastly, your course selection should show that you are continuously challenging yourself intellectually.
Read more: How Many AP Classes Should You Take?
Now, is it possible to take too many APs?
Yes! The first thing you should know is that AP classes require more study time outside of the classroom. The content is challenging, and suddenly you find yourself with less time. If you find yourself spending most of your time on your AP classes, it’s a warning sign that you are taking too many APs. If your GPA drops, that could be a negative sign to send to colleges. At Insight, we emphasize the importance of finding the right balance, whether it is your course load or your college list.
Read more: Balancing Your High School Course Load
What if my high school doesn’t offer the AP class I want?
Let’s take a step back to the rules of course selection. An important factor to keep in mind: think about the skills you want to develop. You may not find AP U.S. History or AP European History all that interesting, but the reading and writing skills you develop during the courses are essential! Of course, this rule applies to regular or honor courses at your high school, not just the AP courses.
If you are really limited by your high school’s options, there are accredited institutions that offer online AP classes, so you can take them outside of your high school. In addition, if you are comfortable setting your own timeline, you can skip the online AP classes and grab an AP test prep book and self-study. If you opt for the self-study route, don’t forget to register for the AP test in May to show your result.
Read more: Should I self-study for AP?
Do I need the perfect 5 on the AP exam?
As we mentioned earlier, a score of 3, 4 or 5 is a passing score in college admissions. Depending on the university and the major choice, you may receive college course credits for an AP score of 3 or higher. When would we advise the student to re-take their AP exam that they got a 3 on? For example, the student wants to major in Biology and got a 3 on their AP Biology exam. If this student doesn’t have any extracurricular or other means of showing subject mastery, we MAY suggest the student retake the AP Bio exam next year. However, it depends on multiple factors. This depends on their current grade, their course load next year, their other commitments during the school years, and more. In most cases, we don’t advise students to retake their AP exams. Use that time to study for your other courses or focus on activities.
This article was transcribed from an interview with Insight’s Co-Founder and Head of Counseling Purvi Mody.
Since 1998, Purvi has dedicated her career to education and is exceedingly well versed in the college admissions process. Her philosophy centers around helping kids identify and apply to the schools that are the best fit for them and then develop applications that emphasize their unique attributes and talents.