Why enroll in an Advanced Placement (AP) class? After all, high school is a pressure cooker. You already have to take the SATs, apply to college and–of course–find a prom date. The last thing you may want to do is take a very demanding course, especially one that's not mandatory. But we recommend you consider it.

AP Classes Can Be a Smart Choice

AP classes can be as challenging as introductory college courses. Many high schools give greater "weight" to AP grades when calculating your GPA. So a "B" in an AP class might be a 3.3 rather than a 3.0. (By the way, you're not getting away with anything; colleges are aware of this practice!)

An AP class signals to admissions officers that you're ready for college–level work. Of course, if you bomb the class, you'll send the opposite message. Many students take these classes to impress prospective colleges despite being unprepared for AP-level work. So talk with the teacher before you enroll.

You can pick and choose AP classes. If you're a science whiz, AP Biology or Chemistry may give you the extra challenge you crave. If you're the next Ernest Hemingway, head to AP English. There are over 30 different AP–certified courses, although your high school may only offer some of these.

AP Exam: The Basics

Students around the country take AP exams in May. The exams last between 2 and 3 hours, depending on the subject. The structure of each exam varies, again depending on the subject. Each test may consist of some combination of multiple–choice, free–response, essay and short answer questions. The exams are scored on a scale from 1 to 5, with a score of 5 being the highest.

Many universities award college credit for strong scores. Given the cost of credits, success on AP exams could save you a good deal of money-potentially an entire semester's worth of tuition.

You may also be able to bypass introductory classes and enroll in upper–level courses. For example, Introduction to American Politics may be a prerequisite for second–year political science courses at your school. However, scoring a 4 or 5 on the AP U.S. Government and Politics exam might exempt you from this requirement. Taking the test that corresponds to your intended major can be a particularly canny move, allowing you to skip the survey course with 200 other students and dive right into more specialized classes.

Policies on AP credit vary greatly by college. If your college offers credit for AP courses, a score of 5 is golden, a 4 will work equally well and a 3 is considered borderline.

You do not have to take an AP course to take the exam. If you feel confident enough with the subject matter, you can sit for the test.


If you're considering sitting for an AP exam, contact the AP coordinator for your school. The coordinator is usually a teacher or counselor who is in charge of collecting exam fees and telling you when and where the exam will be held. If your school doesn't offer APs or doesn't have a coordinator, you can still take the exam–just contact the College Board (the company that runs the AP program).

There is a fee to take the test, although you may apply to the College Board for a fee reduction based on financial need.