I have a riddle for you: What causes young teenagers to burst into tears, consume copious (and unhealthy) amounts of sugary energy drinks and coffee, and lose hours upon hours of sleep?
You guessed it—the AP program. (I may have exaggerated just a little bit…). Yes it’s dramatic, but this is the impression many underclassmen have of APs at various schools (thanks, crazy juniors and seniors). Because of this image, many are left asking themselves three common questions:
- Is it even worth taking an AP course?
- What if the college I end up attending doesn’t end up accepting my credits?
- Won’t my GPA be much higher if I stick with the regular route?
The AP Program is pretty straightforward. Run by the College Board and founded in 1952, it encourages students to challenge themselves by taking college courses in high school. Typically, high schools incorporate AP courses into students’ curriculum beginning in their sophomore or junior year. You are not required to take the end-of-year exam, although many students choose to do so. Students take exams during the first week of May, coined “AP week”, in their respective courses.
Traditionally, students take a course, pay around $80-$120 to take the exam, and then receive their scores in the beginning of July. Scores range from 1-5.
- 1—Probably not qualified
- 2—May qualify
- 4—Very highly qualified
- 5—Highest qualification to receive college credit for a class
So, if a student earns a score of 4 or 5 on their exam, they may be eligible for college credit, depending on which college they attend. Also, you still might have to re-take a class in college, even if you took the AP. For example, I took AP Biology. Since I’m leaning towards medicine, I will definitely have to re-take biology course in college despite possibly having earned college credit for the class (fingers crossed though!).
One thing I love about the AP program is that you actually aren’t required to take the corresponding course in order to take the exam. In fact, many students choose to self-study throughout the year or in the months leading up to “AP week” (Of course, this requires a ton of hard work and dedication. Kudos to those who self-study!).
I have only taken three AP classes—AP European History, AP Biology, and AP US History—and I can say that, while it took a lot of hard work and time, I do not regret taking an AP a single bit. Sure, it would have been easier to stay on the regular track with somewhat easier classes. My GPA would have been much higher. But the most beautiful part of the AP program is the challenge. After all, college is all about challenging yourself and finding your niche!
However, everyone’s experiences are different. Several of our own interns here at The Prospect have spoken highly about the AP program. Josette Marsh, a fellow intern, advises, “Don’t take APs if you’re only looking to impress colleges. Take AP classes if you want to tackle challenging material and go super super deep into a specific subject. If you genuinely want to challenge yourself and want to learn, you’ll get so much more out of the class.”
Gabrielle Scullard, another intern here at The Prospect, says that, in her experience, the advantages of taking an AP course far outweigh any disadvantages. AP courses are faster paced, which, if you are bored with schoolwork easily, is a good thing. Students learn more, too. “On-level history gets a packet to fill out during class and takes a test that was literally the same packet. In APUSH, you actually had to learn the information, rather than memorizing its position on a piece of paper,” she says.
Steven Gu, co-founder of The Prospect, took the “Take AP Classes, not AP Exams” route. AP exams are on the pricier side, and not all colleges will accept your credit. “Sometimes the credit you earn might not even transfer over into college. At Swarthmore, in order to receive the two history AP credits I earned, I have to take two history classes (so then I would get four credits in total) However that is difficult if I already have a jam packed course load. Definitely taking into account which schools you’re thinking of (state schools, private, public) and looking through some of their AP credit transferring requirements can help you determine which AP exams to take,” Steven advises. Remember, the point of an AP class isn’t just to get credit—it’s a learning experience, and you’re preparing yourself for college.
The bottom line is—and seems to be agreed upon unanimously by The Prospect staff—yes, do take AP courses (By the way, among everyone I spoke to, AP US History was the most popular and recommended AP course. Just saying)! Not only will you young geniuses be challenging yourselves, but you will reap the benefits later on. “I don’t know how much college credit I’ll have at the end of high school, but, as a result of AP, it’s definitely more than 0, and I will have paid less than $40,000 tuition, so I would say that I benefitted,” Gabrielle says.
The AP program has helped my GPA, helped me get an idea of what college will be like, and exposed me to different subjects in a depth I would not have studied had I not taken these courses. My interests have changed since then, and I definitely think I’ve narrowed down what I want my major to be as a result.
I want you to imagine yourself. You are a driven, intelligent, ambitious individual, and taking the challenge of an AP course places you in a classroom with other driven, intelligent, and ambitious individuals. If you’re still asking yourself, “Why?” I challenge you to ask yourself, “Why not?”