Expanding Access to Advanced Placement: Overcoming Barriers to Equity

Advanced Placement courses are a common way to earn credit for college, but they're not accessible to everyone. Consider these options for AP success.

portrait of Debbi Johnson-Rais, Ed.D.
by Debbi Johnson-Rais, Ed.D.

Updated August 15, 2022

Reviewed by Angelique Geehan

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Expanding Access to Advanced Placement: Overcoming Barriers to Equity

Advanced Placement (AP) exams and AP courses are an excellent way for high school students to get a strong start in college by completing credits before enrolling. These opportunities help students develop learning strategies, and earning a good score on an AP test indicates preparedness to college admissions committees.

However, access to AP classes is not equal across student populations. For example, The Education Trust reports that Black students are not fairly represented in advanced high school classes, including AP courses.

The Gaps in Access to AP Courses for Underrepresented Groups and Low-Income Students

Schools are encouraged to ensure the demographics of students taking AP courses reflect the school's population — but this is often not the case.

For example, among the high school class of 2020, only 0.4% and 8.3% of the population taking AP exams were American Indian/Alaskan Native students and Black students, respectively. In contrast, American Indian/Alaska Native students and Black students made up 0.9% and 14.2% of the student population.

Various factors contribute to the lack of representation of some students of color in AP courses. These include funding inequalities, a lack of available seats, bias on the part of staff and administrators, inadequate early childhood support, and a lack of communication with parents.

Many schools serving primarily Black and Latino/a students don't offer AP coursework at all. Evidence suggests that a lack of access, rather than a lack of ability on the part of students, is the primary challenge that needs to be overcome to achieve more equitable testing outcomes.

What to Do if Your School Doesn't Offer AP Classes

If AP classes aren't available at your school, there are other options you can pursue to receive rigorous academic preparation and earn college credits while in high school. Here are some options:

The Cost of AP Exams and Materials

Although enrolling in an AP class is free, there are still costs associated with taking exams and receiving college credit.

How Much Do AP Exams Cost?

The cost for AP exams taken in the U.S. and its territories is $96, except for the AP Seminar and Research Exam, which costs $144. There is also a $40 late fee per exam if students fail to register before the deadline.

Students who demonstrate significant financial need may qualify for a fee reduction from the College Board. Some states and school districts also oversee programs to help reduce out-of-pocket testing costs for test-takers.

How Much Does It Cost to Send AP Scores?

The cost for sending your score report to a college is $15 per report. However, you can send one free score report each year if you submit a request before the deadline. You can sign in to your College Board account anytime to send your scores to multiple schools.

If you don't want to send your AP scores to colleges, you don't have to. However, if you took an AP class at your high school, your AP course grade will still factor into your GPA.

Other Costs Related to AP Courses

The costs related to AP courses are generally built into the course and subsidized by the school. Additional materials, such as graphing calculators, are required in some classes. These can cost $100-$140.

Some schools may also provide in-house tutoring or study sessions hosted by faculty or students — these can be a great alternative to expensive private tutors.

How to Get an AP Fee Reduction

The College Board offers need-based fee reductions that reduce the cost of AP exams for qualifying students. Although full waivers may not be available, your school's AP coordinator can help determine if you're eligible for a $34 fee reduction per exam.

This fee reduction applies to any exams you sit for. Although exact requirements vary depending on your school and district, students who meet one of the following requirements typically qualify:

Study Resources for AP Exams

There are many resources available to students getting ready to take their AP exams. A good starting point is with your school's AP coordinator — they may be able to provide in-person resources on campus.

Test preparation and tutoring can be pricey, so here are a few low-cost or free options to consider:

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