The Race to Place: A College Parent’s Guide to Advanced Placement

As July approaches each year, many high school students eagerly await the release of Advanced Placement scores.  These scores may determine whether students will receive college credit or have the option of being placed in advanced, upper level college courses.  If you have a high school student, you may be wondering whether your student should be taking Advanced Placement, or AP courses.  If you have a student about to enter college, you may even wonder whether your student missed an important opportunity.  The short answer is, it depends . . .

Advanced Placement, or AP, courses allow students to participate in college level classes as part of their high school curriculum.  Most students who take an AP course then take the national exam for that course at the end of the year.  Students who receive a score that is high enough may receive college credit and may be exempted from taking certain introductory level classes. More than 2600 colleges in 100 countries grant credit for AP work.  31% of schools consider AP scores as they award scholarships.  AP courses and exams are offered in over 30 subjects.

What are the advantages of taking on the harder work of an AP class?

There are several advantages to taking AP classes:

  • Whether or not your student ultimately takes the AP exam or does well on the exam, your student will have the opportunity to experience a college level class. He will have a better idea of what to expect when he arrives on campus.
  • Your student will have the opportunity to build the academic skills that will be important in his college classes. This may make his transition to college work easier.
  • Taking AP classes demonstrates to admissions personnel that your student is serious about his studies. He is attempting a challenging curriculum.
  • Students who receive “qualified” grades on the exam may receive college credit for the course. This means that your student begins college with credits already “in his pocket.”  A student who passes several AP exams, might be able to reduce his time in college.
  • Students who receive “qualified” grades may be able to skip introductory classes and begin upper level work immediately, possibly getting a quicker start on their major.

Is AP coursework right for your student?

As appealing as it may sound to begin college with a credit head start, AP coursework is difficult and may not be for everyone. Your student should discuss options with his guidance counselor and teachers and consider carefully whether he is ready to undertake an AP course.  What should he consider?

  • There may be other courses which are recommended prior to taking a particular AP course. He may need to begin planning early in his high school career.
  • Your student should be prepared to work hard and to put in more time studying than in non-AP coursework. Classes are often difficult, fast-paced, and intensive.  This is college level work with college level expectations.
  • Some high schools weight their GPA calculations and others do not. If your student’s school uses a weighted GPA, AP coursework may be weighted more heavily. If your student’s school does not use a weighted GPA, a lower grade in the AP course may lower your student’s overall GPA.  As your student considers this factor, however, he should remember that there are other advantages to taking AP courses as well.

Which AP classes should my student consider?

Although the College Board offers more than 30 AP options, not every high school will offer every subject.  Your student should begin by talking to his guidance counselor about his options.  (If your student is especially interested in a subject that his school does not offer, there are some online options.  He should talk with his guidance counselor about approved providers.)  Your student should also talk to other students who have already taken AP classes.  Finally, your student should consider what he enjoys, what he is good at, and what he hopes to major in.  These factors will help him determine what AP classes might be right for him.

How are the AP exams scored?

All AP exams are administered in May and read in June.  Scores are released in July.  Exams are graded on a 5 point scale –

5 = extremely well qualified

4 = well qualified

3 = qualified

2 = possibly qualified

1 = no recommendation for credit

Each college or university makes its own determination about whether it will accept AP credit and/or advanced placement (upper level classes).  Some schools will accept scores of 3 and above, other schools 4 and above, and some highly selective schools may only give credit for a score of 5.  Some schools may give credit only and other schools may grant advanced placement.

Of the students who took the exams in 2013, approximately 34% received either a 4 or 5, and another 25% received a 3.  Approximately 20% received no recommendation.

What should my student do after the exam?

AP scores are available in July.  Students may access their scores online.  This site will include all of the student’s scores for any exams taken during the last 4 years.  Students will need to be sure that they have requested the College Board to send their scores directly to the college by filling in the 4 digit college code at the time of the exam.  Students may have one free report sent each year that they take an exam.  Additional reports may be requested online.

If your student will be registering for college classes prior to the AP score being available, he may wonder whether he should register for a class for which he might receive advanced placement.  If the class is required, either for the major or for a college elective, he may want to register anyway.  Once the score is received by the college, if he is granted credit for the course, he can request to drop the course from his schedule.  It is always easier to drop a class than to add it at the last minute if he does not receive advanced placement credit.

Consider carefully

The decision of whether or not to take an AP class and exam is an individual one, but your student does not need to make it alone.  Talk to him about whether he is up for the challenge and what the potential advantages and/or downfalls might be.  Encourage him to talk to his guidance counselor and the teachers who know him best. Help him remember, too, that if he chooses to undertake an AP class, he will receive important benefits whether or not he ultimately receives college credit or advanced placement.

The AP program is run by The College Board; the same people who run the SAT.  They have more information about the program on their website.

Related Posts:

The Path to Graduation: What’s Your Student’s Timeline?

The Path to Graduation: The Fast Track

Dual Registration May Give High School Students a Head Start on College

Understanding the Differences Between High School and College

If your student is in high school, check out our e- 60 Practical Tips for Using the High School Years to Prepare for College Success. This guide is not about getting in to college. It is about how to work now to help your student succeed once they get to college. Open the door and get the conversations started!

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