To AP Or Not To AP? Answers To Commonly-Asked Questions

Joan Casey

One of the most commonly asked questions in our practice is: “Does it matter if I take AP courses or not?” The answer depends on what courses are the right fit for the individual student, and what the student’s aspirations are.

Will I Be Able To Handle The Work?

The first and what might seem like an obvious consideration is whether the student can handle the course work in an AP class. If a student is working hard and feeling stressed with schoolwork or routinely staying up to the wee hours of the morning to complete homework then adding to the workload might not be a good idea. However, if the student is working at that pace because she has spent two hours earlier in the evening texting friends, posting to Instagram or playing video games then an A.P. course might be possible if the student re-prioritized study time.

Extra help is available to students who participate in AP courses.

What if I Get A Lower Grade?

Another common question is “Am I better off getting an A in a lower-leveled course than a B in an A.P. course?” In a New York Times interview, Jeff Rickey, Vice President and Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at St. Lawrence University said: “As we admissions officers say when we are asked this question, ‘An A in an Advanced Placement class!’ But, seriously, the student should take the most challenging course that is best for him or her. The extra challenge of the AP course may prepare the student better for the challenge of college courses.”

For selective colleges that expect students to have AP courses, a student is absolutely better off taking the more rigorous course and earning a B. Where possible, it is a good idea for students to try at least one AP course before the end of high school. Likewise, if a student is in college preparation courses, they could try one advanced college prep or honors course. The idea is to challenge oneself a little more.

If I Don’t Take AP Will My Choices Be Limited?

The honest answer is yes. But that is not necessarily a bad thing. By doing what is right for you as an individual and taking classes where you will learn and succeed you will not only expand your college list, but also develop one that is more realistic. Depending on your high school, most highly selective colleges will expect to see at least one AP course during junior year and at least three during senior year. In some school systems, AP courses start as early as sophomore year and students would be expected to take advantage of a good percentage of them. In such schools it is not uncommon for students to take four or more AP courses per year.

Keep in mind that students can totally stress themselves by taking a too rigorous course load because they dream of one school in particular. They may not realize that for highly selective colleges, most everyone applying has the course rigor, the strong grades and the test scores. So at that level, the colleges are looking for other factors to differentiate the student. Don’t get yourself into a situation where you are incredibly stressed in pursuit of a college that might not be an option anyway.

Having proper note-taking skills will help students balance multiple AP courses.

Are The Colleges That Do Not Expect Lots of AP Courses Good Options?

Absolutely. There are many wonderful liberal arts colleges and universities with strong students and excellent faculty that do not focus as much on the number of advanced courses a student has taken. Take a look at Colleges That Change Lives and Colleges of Distinction and start investigating. Highly regarded universities such as University of Vermont, Syracuse and others also consider strong students without AP. This will vary depending on the college and the major. This can be confusing and that is why we assist high school students in creating a college list and making appropriate course choices, so contact us today if you need assistance.

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