4 Things You Should Know About AP Classes Before You Take Them

If you’re an ambitious student, chances are you’re preparing for college in whatever ways you can. This means reading books, doing research about various majors, discovering what your passions are and, of course, taking Advanced Placement (AP) classes. AP classes are usually designed to help you succeed in a college classroom by imitating college-level coursework with advanced assignments and lectures. It’s difficult to say which specific AP classes you should take, as every school and student is different, but there are a few key factors everyone should consider when making this decision. We talked to current college students to get real input about their experiences taking AP classes so you’ll have a better understanding of what to look for when choosing yours.

1. Your teacher could make or break your experience

Almost all former AP students agree that the teacher makes all the difference in your success. It all comes down to whether or not you feel prepared for the final AP exam at the end of the course. Every student at every school receives the same exam, which may remind you of the ACT or SAT. This is why it’s crucial that your teacher gives you enough time and information to succeed on them, as their students’ scores reflect on their teaching ability, too. AP exams are graded on a 5-point scale, and depending on the college or your desired major, typically scores of 3 or higher are accepted for college credit. This may seem simple enough, but these exams are tough if you don’t put in the effort ahead of time.

Sarah Madaus, a junior at Temple University, says that she took AP Psychology, AP Language & Composition and AP U.S. Government for college credit. “I got to skip out on 3 gen-eds, which is actually pretty good,” she says. “They were definitely worth taking, but make sure your teacher is good, because the tests are super hard and you can't get credit if you don't get at least a 3 (or 4).”

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Knowing the reputation of your teacher will help you understand what to expect out of the class. The ultimate goal of taking AP classes, besides expanding your knowledge, is usually to get college credit. This goes hand in hand with getting a good score on the exam. Make sure you have a teacher who will help you succeed.

2. Your school might not offer the AP classes you want to take

Every high school is different when it comes to how many AP classes they offer students. Some offer as few as five, while others have over 30.

Even though you may not be able to skip out entirely on certain college classes, getting to take more advanced ones your freshman year will help set you apart from other students, too. Also, if your high school doesn't offer the AP class you want to take, you can still take the exam and potentially get college credit later. You just have to self-study by using workbooks, textbooks and online resources. You could even try to get independent study credit from your high school. 

3. The workload may be more than you want to take on

When it comes down to which AP classes are worth your time, it helps to know what you see yourself pursuing in the future. Again, not everyone knows what they want to major in this early on. If you strongly like learning about certain subjects, though, then these advanced classes are for you. If you’re taking them simply with the hopes of skipping ahead in college, you might want to think twice.

Many AP classes require a lot of reading, like AP Lit and AP U.S. History, and they will take up a lot of your time. Samantha Burke, a recent graduate of Siena College, agrees.

“I took AP Environmental and AP U.S. Gov. I almost took AP U.S. History but I dropped out of it because the workload was more than was worth it to me—the amount of reading was insane,” she says. “If you know what your major is going to be, I'd say take APs that actually count towards core credits.”

Nobody wants to spend their time putting that much effort into a subject they have little interest in if they don’t have to. Sometimes sticking to college gen-ed classes is smarter than taking an AP class in high school, especially if you don’t enjoy your teacher or subject matter.

“I felt like AP World History wasn't that useful, mainly because the subject matter wasn't of much interest to me,” says Kristen Adaway, a senior at the University of Georgia. “There was a TON of reading!” Every class is different, and every teacher views homework differently, but AP classes are generally more work than others so factor that in when planning your weekly schedules.

4. Your future college might not give you credit for the class

This is a harsh reality that many students don’t realize until after they’ve taken the AP exam. As stated above, the exam is scored on a 5 point scale and usually scores of 3 or more are accepted for college credit. This is why you want to be sure you have all the tools and guidance you need to succeed on the exam, because your final score matters greatly.

Lexi Hill, a senior at the University of South Carolina, was lucky enough to get college credit for her scores. “I took AP Psych, AP Gov, and AP Art History! I got a 3 or above on them and they all counted toward college credits,” she says.

Rachna Shah, a freshman at Dartmouth, had lots of options to choose from and took 14 AP courses. “My school offered 30+ AP classes.” she says. “None of them will allow me to get college credit, but I will be able to take more advanced classes starting in the fall. Most of them were worth it—e.g. AP Econ and AP Lit especially—though some were more busywork.”

If you know which colleges you are considering, you can reach out to an admissions officer or do research online ahead of time to figure out which AP classes they accept. This may be too far in the future for some students, but if you’re one of the rare ones who knows exactly what they want to do with their life, take advantage of the AP classes that will help push you further towards your goal.

Many colleges do recognize the effort it takes to succeed on these exams and are willing to offer college credit, but you may want to do some research before you commit to an AP class. It never hurts to challenge yourself in the classroom, but it’s important to first ask yourself what you wish to get out of the class and then go from there.

AP classes are a great way to experience a taste of college work, and many teachers pride themselves on helping their students receive high AP exam scores, but they do take up your time and effort. It’s difficult to say which classes are worth your time, but it’s important to talk to others at your school who have already taken AP classes to get their input. Just remember, it really depends on the dedication of your teacher, the amount of effort you’re willing to put in and what you plan to achieve by taking AP classes. No matter what, you have to figure out what’s best for you now and what will help you succeed in the future. Cheers!

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