These days, it seems like nothing you do is enough to get you into your dream university. And so you start to spiral, signing on every club sheet in your school, hunting for a passion project and somehow finding the time to do 150+ hours of community service, while still managing to top all your classes. Let's face it, grades make up about 60% of your application, and in the effort to seem academically inclined, students spend a bucket load on AP classes to demonstrate a “rigorous” workload, not realizing the amount of stress and work they are burdening themselves with. and this begs us to ask a pertinent question: are AP classes really worth the money, time, and effort they take up?
If you are someone who thinks that it would benefit from taking AP courses now than repeating those classes in college, then go ahead. But keep in mind that these courses cost 97 USD for American students and 127 USD for international ones, excluding the 40-dollar late fee. And keep in mind that while the college board offers fee waivers, the certainty of attaining those waivers is little to none.
Another thing to consider is if you are already taking community college courses or dual enrollment/honors classes, then adding AP classes to the mix would only exert you. While it would certainly make your application stand out, keep in mind that this is a big exertion in terms of workload, and only proceed if you feel as if you are able to balance your schedule.
Another downside of AP classes is that only some colleges offer credit for your classes, and the scores vary for those as well. Classes like calculus AB/BC, any science, or English are usually accepted at 4 or above, but more humanitarian or artistic courses may not offer any credit, even if you scored a 5.
In this case, it's best to do your research on which colleges offer which credits and at what score, and then narrow down your choices accordingly. In case of a course you have a genuine interest in, I would suggest that you take that class as a dual enrollment course or at an honors level to maximize your chances of getting some rigor in your workload.
Most of these tips apply to US students, so what about international ones?
If you are someone doing the GCSEs or A levels, your subjects count as credits due to the rigor they contain. While AP classes do give more weight in terms of credit, it does not make sense to add on AP classes when your desired subjects align with your career options.
The same goes for IBDP students, but do be mindful that only HL courses count as credits. Many DP students prefer to attempt AP courses such as AP psych as this subject is a requirement for many STEM and entrepreneurship careers, and some prefer to attempt AP English(lit or lang) as the format is quite similar to IBDP English.
In my opinion, if you are a DP student, then you really do not need to attempt AP classes as the DP program is universally recognized as rigorous and challenging, but if it is still something you wish to do, it would make sense to do an SL subject as there will be some familiarity and you can maximize your credits.
However, AP classes do have some advantages, a major one being that you can skip courses in college and save money, or take classes that you have a genuine interest in. If you do enough AP classes, you might be able to skip a semester altogether, which is what many high school students aim to do. Again, the cost factor comes into play here, but if you think that you can manage the workload, I would highly recommend doing this.
Another advantage to taking AP classes is the college prep these classes give you, in terms of difficulty and subject depth. This not only makes you accustomed to the type of work you'll have to be doing during college but also helps you assess whether you would like to take this subject further in terms of your major/minor.
Finally, AP scholar awards look good on your profile and give you the incentive to take on more AP classes. While this can be seen as a money-making scheme on the college board’s side, these awards do set you aside from the average high school applicant and add weight to your resume. Taking on more AP classes can also help you boost your GPA, but this depends on your class grade curve. However, this does not work for international students as you will be giving the exam directly.
So, after assessing the pros and cons of AP courses, let's circle back to the question asked at the start of the article: are AP classes really worth the money, time, and effort they take up?
The answer: it depends from person to person
In the end, your decision comes down to how well you think you will be able to manage your time and extracurriculars in addition to AP classes, and how many you can afford. I personally think that AP classes make sense if you want to add rigor to your course and want to maximize credits in college, but I don't think that the price point is justified, especially since AP exam makers are known to repeat questions from time to time.
In the end, the decision to take, or not to take(I think I would absolutely excel at AP literature and composition) is in your hands, and I would highly suggest talking to your school counselor and doing research based on the major/university you are targeting before you make your final decision.
Don't feel pressured to bite off more than you can chew, as maintaining a high GPA is essential to get into a good college, but at the same time, do not shy away from opportunities where you feel like you need a little bit of a challenge when it comes to your academics. All the best and happy test-taking!