If you’re taking AP classes, you’re probably looking forward to earning college credit for work you did in high school. The exams are inexpensive compared to college classes, which cost thousands of dollars at some private schools, and they can be a great way to enrich yourself and save money.
At the same time, you shouldn’t focus so much on getting the best deal that you forget the real purpose of school, which is to give you knowledge and help you prepare for the future. For various reasons, many students decide not to use all of their AP credit. Obviously, this isn’t an all-or-nothing decision, because you can choose to use some exams and not others.
Once you choose your college, they will ask you to have your AP scores sent from the College Board. (You don’t need to send AP scores when you apply to colleges for the first time—it’s enough to self-report them on the Common Application.) After this, any credit you’ve earned will automatically appear on your transcript. There are two ways to opt out of it: you can either retake a class for which you got credit, which will result in forfeiting the AP credit, or you can take another class that fulfills the same requirement (assuming it’s a general requirement that can be fulfilled with multiple classes). The latter option will allow you to use the AP credit as open elective credit, so you won’t lose it completely.
When you’re deciding whether to use your AP credit, you should ask yourself how well your exam score reflects your understanding of the material. If you learned the material by studying throughout the semester, you’re probably in a better position to skip the class than someone who got a high test score by cramming from prep books in the weeks before the exam.
In particular, think about how well you would perform on the AP exam if you took it right now. Do you think your score would be the same, or have you forgotten most of what you knew? Do you think the information is “part of you” to the point where you can apply it to new problems and circumstances? Did your AP class prepare you for multiple-choice questions on a test, or did it prepare you for the labs and research papers that are often required in college classes?
You should also consider your intended major, because you may want to retake lower-level classes in the subject so that you’ll be prepared to take multiple upper-level classes in later years. Cornell University says, “In general, you can use AP credits in subjects that are elective for your major (such as history or language) and for which you do not plan to pursue advanced study. For courses that are important in your major or career goal (such as chemistry, biology, and math), you may choose NOT to use your AP credits. Some students forfeit their AP credits and take the introductory course at Cornell because they want to have a thorough review at the introductory college level in preparation for advanced courses.”
Many students use their AP credits to satisfy general requirements (such as humanities or social sciences). If you use your AP credit as an excuse to avoid classes in these areas throughout your college career, you’ll probably miss out because colleges offer a much broader array of classes than is available through the AP program. For example, my school has a quantitative reasoning requirement that can be fulfilled with an AP Calculus score, but many students would benefit from taking another class that fulfills the requirement, such as logic or programming.
These considerations may lead you to decide that you shouldn’t use all of your AP credit. Even so, you shouldn’t feel that you wasted time by taking advanced classes. Your experience with college-level material will help you in college classes even if you don’t test out of anything.