AP Classes are advanced placement courses that are operated by the College Board. Those are the same folks who operate the SAT that students take when trying to achieve a superior college or university placement through the use of this standardized test. It is an opportunity to take classes at your high school that can help you to earn college credits or manage the qualifications for high-level classes when you earn your diploma.
These classes are designed to give students the experience of an introductory-level college course while students are still in high school. When you pass the exam, there is an opportunity to earn college credits.
This opportunity was created in the 1950s when there was a widening gap between high school and college-based educational opportunities. The pilot program began with 11 subjects, launching in 1956 when the College Board took over the program.
There are currently 2.7 million students in the United States who are taking AP exams each year, covering a total of 38 subjects. It is not unusual for teens today to take multiple advanced placement classes over the course of their four years in high school. If you or your teen are thinking about AP classes right now, then these are the biggest pros and cons to consider.
List of the Biggest Pros of AP Classes
1. Taking AP classes can lead to more scholarship and grants.
The test scores, class rankings, and overall grades that teens earn in their AP classes can help them gain some additional opportunities for grants and scholarships during their junior year of high school. If your family needs financial aid to manage tuition costs, then a specific GPA, ACT, or SAT score can help you to achieve that goal. Some institutions want to see evidence of academic rigor and excellence, which advanced placement courses can provide for your student.
2. It is easier to choose a major because of AP classes.
When high school students take their first AP classes, it can be shocking to see the depth of knowledge that they receive exposure to in the course. Compared to the generalized classes that provide an overview of the subject with few specifics, there is a higher focus on the details of the subject matter in a way that is similar to what a college or university class would offer. By gaining exposure to this information, it becomes easier for students to choose the major and minor that they want after they graduate with their diploma.
3. The classes help students add more depth to their college applications.
Elite colleges and universities seek out the best applications to add to their incoming freshman class each year. Although some students can make it through with the bare minimum and find an undergraduate program they like, the competition levels for college placement continue to rise. Taking AP classes is one way that students can prove that they are up to the challenges of a bachelor’s degree as part of their application process.
Students taking AP classes must excel with their efforts to perform and study well. The materials are demanding, and the grading is harder than a generalized course. Most of these classes are graded on a 5.0 scale instead of using the standard 4.0 GPA like you would experience in most high schools.
4. AP courses can make their way to a teen’s college transcript.
Because advanced placement courses can earn college credits, the grades that your high school student earns today can be a permanent addition to their eventual college transcript. Because the difficulty rating of the classes is higher than generalized content found in the typical high school subjects, a B grade in AP means more than it would using the standard GPA formula. You’ll want to work for the best grade possible to push up your college GPA one day. That means you can begin the journey toward the career that you want right away instead of waiting until after you graduate from high school.
5. Students can study on their own for the AP exams.
High schools will usually offer a formal classroom environment for their advanced placement classes so that it replicates the college environment. What some families may not realize is that you can decide to pursue the information in AP classes on your own. Then you can take the exam at an authorized testing center instead of at the school. The College Board recommends that you take the formal class whenever possible, but this advantage makes the college credits and the other benefits of this work available to non-traditional students, such as homeschoolers, private school families, and those who perform independent study.
6. Teens get the opportunity to begin building up their personal skills.
College can be a tricky experience during your first semester. For many teens, it is the first time that they are out on their own. It can be challenging to manage your class schedule, job responsibilities, and extracurricular activities during those first days. When you can take a couple of AP classes each year, then you can get a feeling of what life will be like in the future. This coursework teaches you how to improve your time management skills, balance study time with entertainment, and the vocational talents you’ll need in your preferred field of work in the future.
7. Parents are still involved in the educational process.
Parents should check on how the AP classes are being taught at their school before making an assumption about the quality of the education their teen will receive. Most teachers are capable of instructed the prescribed curriculum without difficulty, but you might also find some instructors can develop their own course materials that are far superior than what the College Board produces.
You always have the option to opt out before the exam if you are not satisfied with the results that you see or the method of instruction. That will help you to avoid the costs of advanced placement while supporting the educational needs of your student.
8. They were originally intended for course placement, and now can help with admission.
When you have a robust SAT or ACT score, then there is value in that test from a college admissions standpoint. It is an easy way for applicant reviewers to see that there was some level of rigor put into the educational process. AP designations in front of classes on a high school transcript do the same thing. It speaks of exceptionalism, even if the teacher was tired, burned out, and forced the class to self-teach themselves.
When there is something that is this valuable that you can add to a college admissions application, then it must be given some consideration. Even one AP class can make a significant difference in your teen’s profile.
List of the Biggest Cons of AP Classes
1. There are costs to consider when taking AP classes.
It is not unusual for the course materials in an advanced placement class to be free. When your teen needs to take the exam to provide evidence of their understanding, then that is when the costs of AP classes come into play. The standard amount for exam fees charged by the College Board is $94 for classes taken in the United States, $124 at schools outside of the U.S. and Canada (with the exception of DoDDS schools), and $142 per exam for AP Capstone Exams. If you qualify for a reduced rate because of your household income level, then there is a $32 reduction.
If your teen wants to take multiple AP classes during the year, those costs can add up pretty quickly. This financial investment can also put a lot of pressure on the teens who take the exam because a failing grade or a passing one both come at the same price.
2. It can be challenging to complete AP classes.
When teens decide that they want to pursue advanced placement classes, then they will need to complete a workload that is more intense. Some students may see their grades begin to suffer because of the amount of work that they are doing. Teens may need some help when planning out their schedule so that there is some balance to it. The recommended goal is to take 2-3 AP classes each year, but some students try to fit that many classes into a single semester.
3. Colleges and universities may see the results of AP classes differently.
No two colleges or universities are the same. That means each one will likely take your AP classes and exams into consideration differently as well. Some institutions like to hold the rigor of the additional studies as having more value than others. You might find some are more forgiving of lower advanced placement grades if your overall GPA is good, but some may not. The 5.0 scale might come into consideration for some applications, but it could be ignored with others.
It can be a good idea to narrow down which colleges or universities you want to attend before taking AP classes so that you have an understanding of what will be expected of you going forward.
4. You can hurt your GPA when taking AP classes.
When you hear of students having a GPA of 4.5 or higher, then there is an excellent chance that they excelled in their AP classes. What you don’t always hear about are the students who struggled with their advanced placement work. Even though the grading is typically on a 5.0 scale, the difficulty in grading can actually lower the GPA of some students. If you don’t put in the extra work required of you to pass this class, then you could end up with a grade worse than what you would have earned if you had taken honors classes instead.
5. The time it takes to complete AP classes can limit your social life.
Teens sometimes struggle with the requirements of advanced placement because the classes can take them outside of the normal student routine. There is less time for social gatherings because the focus must be on the material. Some students may not have the option to work a job, play their favorite sport, or join in on other extracurricular activities outside of the school so that they can keep their grades up.
AP classes can be an important part of a college or university application, but so is volunteerism, community involvement, and other areas of life. If you focus on the coursework alone, the high school experience might not be as fulfilling as it could be.
6. Testing can become the focus of AP classes instead of the information.
Because there is so much value placed on the exams in advanced placement classes, some students find themselves studying to get a passing grade instead of trying to immerse themselves in the information. There can be a lot of highly stressful situations when taking AP classes, especially if you prefer independent study, because there can be a lot of uncertainty about the preparation process.
There really isn’t a best practice to follow when preparing for AP classes for the first time. Some students adapt to the process quickly and earn a robust GPA because of it. Other teens need to fight and scrap for every tenth of a point that they earn. It all depends on what your priorities happen to be with this educational investment.
7. Some schools may not allow students to apply for or take AP classes.
The policies of a school district will often dictate where a student can take formal AP classes or be pushed toward a self-study course. Although some offer open courses where everyone can try to take advantage of the benefits of advanced placement, it is not unusual to have restrictions in place so that only the students who are likely to do well can master the challenges of this coursework.
Because of this disadvantage, you can sometimes find school districts attempting to boost their reputation at the expense of their student body. When the success rates are high in AP classes, then a school can be seen as being a hard-hitter for education with their rigorous processes.
Verdict on the Biggest Pros and Cons of AP Classes
AP classes can help high school students begin the preparation process for college. It can also be a way to explore different subjects to find something that a teen is passionate enough about to pursue as a future career opportunity.
The work in advanced placement classes can be challenging. Some students discover that this work is not right for them. If you take multiple courses in a single semester, then the workload can become overwhelming too.
That’s why the biggest pros and cons of AP classes must be taken under careful consideration at the personal level. You can decide if taking the class or a home-study method is a better option. Then you can determine if there is enough money in the budget to support the educational benefits that advanced placement can provide.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Masters Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.