Many high school students choose to take AP (Advanced Placement) classes. These are rigorous courses that allow them to earn college credit and perhaps skip some general course requirements in college. AP courses are offered in a variety of subjects—including English, science, social studies, math, computer science and a number of foreign languages. The classes cover more than typical high school classes, exploring complex topics. Since they are fast paced and more challenging, they require a significant amount of work outside of class—much like college courses.

While highly selective colleges encourage prospective students to take multiple AP courses, students who take fewer APs can still expect to qualify for top schools. AP classes do carry extra weight with colleges, but how much depends on the institution. It is also important to note that other factors are considered when distinguishing between similar candidates—such as overall GPA, good SAT and ACT scores, strong essays, and impressive extracurricular activities.

The Advantages of Taking AP Classes

High-performing students can benefit greatly from AP classes. In addition to providing a much-needed challenge, many colleges give credit for AP classes. Earning these credits in high school allows students to skip some lower-level college courses and move quicker towards meeting the requirements for a major.  It can even help them graduate earlier.

According to a College Board report, there is a positive correlation between students’ success in AP classes and their ability to graduate within four years from a college or university. Completing these courses ahead of time can also help save a significant amount of money on college tuition. Most importantly, AP classes help prepare students for the rigors of college work, encouraging greater success while enrolled. Schools take this into account when reviewing applications for admission.

AP Exams

At the end of each AP course, students have the option to take an exam to determine how well they have mastered the material. The College Board administers these exams once a year (May 6-10 and May 13-17 in 2024) and students normally take them at a high school or another proctored site.

AP exam scores range from 1-5. While the most selective colleges and universities require a four or five to receive college credit, less selective colleges will look favorably at a variety of fours and fives (see How and When to Report AP Scores for more detailed information.)

The initial test fee is $98 per exam for U.S. residents, with fee waivers offered to eligible students. Students do have the option of retaking exams as many times as they want, but a fee will apply for each retake.

How and When to Report AP Test Scores

AP test scores are self-reported on college applications, so students can choose which scores to include and which to withhold. (There is a place on most applications where students can report these scores.) The College Board will not share scores with a school that a student does not wish to be submitted. But the student, educators in the school and district (including AP teachers), student-designated colleges and universities, and scholarship programs will automatically receive test scores if requested once they become available.

Deciding which test scores to include can sometimes be tricky. Students should report any tests in which a score of five is achieved. While a four is also considered to be impressive, highly selective schools are almost always looking for scores of five in order to set candidates apart. However, a four does indicate a relatively strong understanding of the material and should be reported to less selective schools. At these institutions, a variety of fours and fives will set students apart. It is important to note that admissions officers will expect to see superior results on certain tests—especially if the student has declared a major in a specific area of study.

Scores of three do not mean that a student will not be admitted to a good school. However, these scores are generally not impressive enough to give students an edge and can actually have a negative impact on an application. They are best left off when self-reporting scores.

While self-reported AP scores are reviewed by admissions committees, it is important to remember that the entire application will be reviewed. The scores may not be as important as other required parts of the application but can set students apart and help committees choose between applicants.

What to Consider Before Enrolling in AP Classes

While taking AP courses can increase the chances for college admission, there are several factors to consider before enrolling in a class. Students who enjoy learning and challenging themselves will likely find success in AP classes. But students who struggle with grades and/or find school more difficult may find some AP classes to be overwhelming.

Deciding which classes to take is often difficult. However, students should start out with subjects in which they have experienced success in the past—those with which they already have a certain level of knowledge. They should also carefully consider their course load each semester when deciding how many and which classes to take.

Attempting to take too many AP classes at once can have detrimental effects on students, causing them to get frustrated and experience burnout. This in turn can affect the GPA, as well as the student’s mental health. AP classes do require extra time and effort, so students need to take into account how this will fit in with their already-busy lives. They will need to learn how to balance extracurricular activities, honors courses, jobs, and any other responsibilities outside of the AP coursework.

For more information about AP classes, including planning and selection, contact us. Our highly qualified college counselors will guide you through the process and help students make the best course decisions.