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Articles / Applying to College / Are Advanced Placement (AP) Courses Important?

Feb. 10, 2002

Are Advanced Placement (AP) Courses Important?

Question: What are AP courses? Why are they so important?

Advanced Placement (AP) courses can save you time and money. They can also give you an edge in the applicant pools of highly selective colleges and universities.


The national AP program is administered by The College Board. Participating high schools have been approved to teach AP courses based on the academic quality of their college-preparatory or, as it is commonly known today, honors curricula. Some high schools offer only a few APs; others can offer a dozen or more.

AP courses are college-level courses, taught with college textbooks and exams, that can give you college credit in the form of advanced standing when you enter your freshman year. There is an end-of-course AP final on which you have to score a 3, 4, or 5 (depending on the college to which you are applying) in order to get college credit. Some colleges will recognize a grade of 3 as qualifying for credit. Most, though, require a 4 or 5.

AP college credit is a good buy. At this writing, an AP course can be taken for the price of registering for the final exam, which is less than $100. You'll find that price hard to beat when looking for a deal on college credit.

Another aspect provided by AP courses is a preview of college-level work. If you have any doubts about doing well in college, an AP course can confirm them or put your mind at ease. They're a lot of work and require much reading, writing, problem sets, and--for the science courses--lab time. They'll give you a real feeling of accomplishment, though, when you're done.

If you are taking AP courses specifically to reduce the amount of credits

you'll have to take once in college, or to have specific classes "waived"

during your freshman year, be aware that every college treats these classes

differently. Taking AP English does not necessarily get you out of taking

English 101 at a particular school. Not every college will promise an exact

equivalency between the AP course you take and a specific class necessary to

graduate--or even an elective, for that matter. Two things to remember:

First, at most colleges the faculty (not the admissions office) decide how

an AP course is treated in light of all credits needed to graduate. Ask the

college department that seems the most likely to review the AP course

(History, Math, etc.). Second, most colleges now have a common first-year

experience, many with a predetermined set of core courses all freshmen must

take. English 101 may not even exist anymore! How will your AP credits be

recognized within the common curriculum? Call and find out before you

assume that your credits will transfer over "one-for-one."

A reasonable schedule might be to take one AP in the sophomore year, two in the junior year, and two or three in the senior year. Most students aspiring to the very best colleges and universities graduate with five or more AP courses on their transcripts. Remember, to college admissions people, a B in an AP course is worth more than an A in a lesser course.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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