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.
Updated August 15, 2022
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- Advanced Placement courses are the most common way to earn college credit in high school.
- AP courses are not equally available to all students due to systemic funding issues.
- There are alternatives to AP coursework that provide rigorous academic preparation for college.
- Many test prep organizations provide free or low-cost resources for students taking AP exams.
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:
- Consider dual-enrollment programs at local colleges to obtain college credits.
- Try self-study and work on your own to prepare for AP exams. You may be able to sit for exams at a nearby school. Make sure to check the AP Course Ledger for AP exam options near you and contact the school to confirm availability. You should also check specific AP test skills/requirements to prepare for your exams.
- Take honors courses as an alternative to AP classes to show rigorous academic preparation.
- Take college courses at a local college. Tuition charges may apply, but your guidance counselor can talk to you about your school's policies for covering costs.
- Check to see whether your state provides online options for AP coursework.
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:
- Participate in the National School Lunch Program
- Belong to a low-income household, as determined by USDA Food and Nutrition Service's Income Eligibility Guidelines
- Participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program
- Be eligible for the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations
- Receive assistance through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program
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:
- The College Board: The College Board offers free recommendations for test preparation, sample questions, and tips straight from the source.
- Kaplan: Free live videos and other resources are available through Kaplan, as well as a breakdown of topics for each test.
- Khan Academy: Khan Academy offers resources for AP test preparation that include videos, articles, and practice tests for a small fee (as low as $12).
- High School Counselors and Teachers: Check with the AP program coordinator and guidance counselors at your school to see what resources are available. Districts often offer one-on-one tutoring on school campuses.
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