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Will Passing the AP Exams Help You Save Money on College Tuition?

Newsflash: colleges are not consistent in their approach to honoring AP Credits. Some institutions have transparent and user-friendly policies. I’ve heard that some people believe that they could even save money on tuition by taking AP courses and passing the AP exams. The idea seems quite straightforward – spend a few hundred dollars now to save thousands of dollars later.


Will I really save money with my AP test scores?

Can a Good AP Test Score Help You Save on College Tuition

The REAL answer is – it depends. It depends upon where you actually enroll, the graduation requirements of the specific college (for example, Arts and Sciences vs. School of Engineering) you are pursuing credits for. The cost or time savings you are hoping to capture ultimately depends upon where you actually attend.


For example, the UC system will issue semester or quarter credits for sufficiently high AP scores (3 and higher) across a wide variety of AP subjects – but depending upon the specific campus, the credit could be general education credit instead of subject matter credit. Your dreams of jumping ahead in your major by skipping a few classes in college might work out – or it might not.


University of Michigan’s College of Literature, Science & the Arts even communicates which AP scores fulfill prerequisites for some of their courses, whether Economics, Biology or Electrical Engineering. That is handy!


On the other hand, some institutions are much more fickle about how they look at the AP scores, giving them extreme scrutiny. Harvard gives exactly ZERO credits for getting 5’s on the AP Computer Science Principles exam or the AP Computer Science A test or the AP World History exam for that matter. But passing the AP European History test gets 8 credits while doing the same on the AP Statistics exam gets only 4. For AP Physics C, one of the most difficult courses taught in American high schools, also only gets a nod of 4 credits from Harvard. What???


What should I do then?

Well, when you are trying to graduate from college, likely you will have your favorite or least favorite subjects – and if you are “missing” anything, it could be in the subject area on which you have spent the least amount of time. If you are hoping to eliminate having to take art or math or a foreign language – whatever is not your cup of tea – AP scores may or may not save you! It really depends on the school you end up attending.


Can a Good AP Test Score Help You Save on College Tuition

In practical terms, this means when you are planning your high school academic courses, it is important to clearly identify for yourself what are the many reasons you are taking a particular class – did it really “earn” a place on your schedule?


Course selection might not sound very exciting; it is basically like choosing what kind of work you will be performing for a semester or the entire school year. You will want to know why you are choosing what you are choosing. So choose carefully. Your high school likely has a grace period for determining how long you can try a class before dropping it, but they also may limit your ability to join a replacement class if you drop whatever was on your original plan.


Read more: Balancing Your High School Course Load


Weighing the pros and cons of a given course schedule is something that we do with students and families all the time, with a practiced eye for what works or what doesn’t. If you are wondering about how many AP courses to take, be sure to check out this post. And reach out to us with questions, we are here to help!



Written by Meilin Obinata

This article is written by Insight Senior College Admissions Counselor Meilin Obinata.

Meilin Obinata is a Senior College Counselor who enjoys learning from her students. She believes education is a creative endeavor and creates a space that allows students to explore new ideas. As a Bay Area native who grew up in Santa Cruz, she is familiar with the local schools. Read her full bio here.

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