5 Questions to Ask Before Taking AP Classes

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  • AP classes give students a chance to learn advanced material and earn college credit.
  • High school students should make sure they can handle AP classes before enrolling.
  • Students considering AP courses should consider workload, expectations, and cost.

In 2020, the College Board reported that 1.21 million graduating high school seniors took 4.1 million AP exams over their time in high school. The number of students taking AP tests increased 43% between 2010 and 2020, showing that these college-level classes have risen significantly in popularity over the past decade.

For many students, AP classes are worth the challenge. But before you decide to enroll, make sure you know what to expect. The five questions below can help you determine whether AP classes are right for you.

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1. Can I Handle the Academic Workload of This AP Class?

AP classes come with a greater workload than the average high school class. AP teachers not only cover more advanced material but also assign more reading, homework, and projects. If you participate in other school activities, such as extracurriculars or sports, the additional responsibility of AP courses may feel overwhelming.

Not all AP classes are the same — some AP classes are easier, while other AP classes are more demanding. Ask your school's AP teachers or your counselor what you can expect from each class and check the course curriculum. With this knowledge, you can make an informed decision and avoid burnout.

2. What Are the AP Teacher's Average Scoring Results?

A high score on your AP exams can result in an impressive college application and even college credit. If there's one factor that can boost your chances of getting a 5 on an exam, it's a helpful teacher.

For that reason, it's important to know teachers' average scoring results for their AP class exams. Go to your school's administrative office and ask if you can see score reports for AP courses.

If a teacher's students consistently earn below-average scores on their exams, then you might consider skipping that class. A teacher who regularly leads their students to high scores, though, may instruct a course worth taking.

3. What Score Do I Need to Earn College Credit for This AP Class?

As a high school student, you don't need to have all your future college plans figured out — you're under enough pressure already. If, however, you know which colleges you'd like to apply to, this information can help you choose AP classes.

Each college sets a different policy for awarding credit for AP classes. Check the AP credit policies at your prospective colleges. If you can earn general education credit for a humanities or science course, then consider taking the corresponding AP classes.

Some colleges may award credit for AP scores of 3 or higher, while others might require a 4 or even a 5. Also, some colleges do not award any credit for AP exams.

4. Can I Afford the Cost of the AP Exam?

You should also consider AP exam costs. The College Board charges $96 for every AP exam taken in the U.S., with the exception of AP seminar and AP research exams — these special exams cost $144 each. The College Board also sets a $40 fee for late orders and unused or canceled exams. These AP exam costs can add up quickly, especially if you're taking multiple AP classes.

If the total cost hinders you from taking certain AP classes, don't give up. The College Board offers a $34 fee reduction for each exam for students with eligible financial need. Some schools and districts may offer financial assistance as well.

5. Should I Dual Enroll Instead?

If your main motive is to gain college credit for AP classes, then you should weigh dual-enrollment courses as an alternative option. Dual-enrollment programs allow high school students to take college classes through local higher education institutions.

Students can then transfer the credits they earned to college after graduating from high school. High schools partner with local colleges or universities to make this a seamless process.

Dual-enrollment classes may offer a wider array of options than AP classes. Plus, as real college courses, they give students a true taste of what to expect from higher education. That said, some colleges may not accept transfer credits from your specific dual-enrollment program.

How to Sign Up for AP Classes

Once you figure out which AP classes you want to take, it's time to sign up. AP classes start at the same time as normal courses, so chances are you'll enroll during the spring or summer before. Talk to your school counselor about your plans, then sign up through the proper channels at your school, whether through a counselor or a school administrator.

Later, you'll need to register for AP exams, which you can do through the College Board's My AP portal.

Frequently Asked Questions About AP Classes

Why should I take AP classes?

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On a practical level, AP classes can give you the opportunity to earn college credit, which can save you money and time in your higher education journey. They also look impressive on your transcript. Taking AP classes can signal that you possess ambition. If you're interested in being challenged academically, AP classes can provide a rigorous education.

Do AP classes affect GPA?

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AP classes can affect GPA. Teachers often grade AP courses on a weighted scale of 5.0 instead of the traditional 4.0 scale. Therefore, if you earn exceptional grades in AP classes, your GPA could rise above a 4.0.

What happens if you fail an AP class?

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If you fail an AP class, then your GPA will likely drop as it would for a normal class. This grade also shows up on your transcript. However, you may be able to retake the class the following year to raise your grade and increase your GPA.

What happens if you fail an AP exam?

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If you fail an AP exam, you will not receive college credit for that course. The good news is that a failed exam does not affect your GPA. In addition, you can retake the AP exam the next year. To prepare, you can re-enroll in the class, study on your own, or hire a tutor who can help you tackle the more challenging subjects on the test.

Feature Image: kali9 / E+ / Getty Images

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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