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Are AP Classes Really Worth It?

Student Life

Many high school students are high achievers that will do anything to ensure acceptance into rigorous colleges. Maintaining their grades and taking on a multitude of extracurricular activities are just a few of the things these kids do in order to craft an excellent college application. However, one of the main ways students strive to prove their college readiness is by taking high-level courses, such as AP classes.

One of the major appeals of taking AP classes is the ability to earn college credit and save money. With college debt rising, the prospect of cutting costs and graduating from college as soon as possible is an enticing one. That being said, these classes aren't always what they're cracked up to be.

It's the minor flaws in this promise and more that make students question if taking these courses is even worth it, or if it's better to just have an easy high school experience before the tough journey of college. So, are AP classes really worth it? Here's your answer, right in time with AP scores coming out.

The Facts

In order to earn college credit, the CollegeBoard makes AP students take a (dreaded) AP exam at the end of the year, for each class. These exams are graded on a score of 1-5, 5 being the best, ranking students on how qualified they are for each course.

College credit is promised to students who earn a 4 or 5, and partial or elective credit for those who earn a 3. Yet, it's rarely as clearcut as that.

Each college has its own separate way of determining which AP classes and which scores qualify for credit. SUNY Old Westbury, for example, will accept a 3 in order to get full credit for AP Language and Composition. Arcadia University only accepts a 5. Some colleges don't even accept the class at all.

Even if students earn credit for their classes, they need to be wary of another thing: which AP classes they take. Certain colleges, especially prestigious ones, don't accept certain AP classes at all. Take AP Seminar, for example. There are approximately 6,000 colleges across the nation, however, only 463 of them accept this class. None of the Ivy Leagues, nor other reputable colleges such as New York University offer credit for this course.

This is besides the fact that the classes themselves are weighted. For students who are excelling in these courses, that's great! But for those struggling, this drags all of their stronger grades down. Students shouldn't just pick an AP class automatically expecting college credit; they need to be willing to pour in all the extra hours necessary to complete classwork and study and be aware of the fact that there's a real possibility that they could fail. It's definitely not the best course of action if they're looking for an easy A.

Students have to be careful with which classes they pick. Although taking an AP course shows colleges that students are prepared for college-level work, going through the ordeal of studying for the class and taking the mandated end-of-year exam all for the likely possibility of doing poorly or earning no credit? It just seems like more trouble than it's worth.

So, how else can students earn college credit?

Enroll In College Classes

One of the best ways high schoolers can earn college credit is by taking courses at their local college. This practically guarantees credit, since students are taking classes directly at a college. The work assigned in them will be college-level, and students shouldn't expect to be an exception to it even if they're still in high school. Nevertheless, it's nothing a high-achieving student can't handle!

This is especially efficient for those who know which college they want to attend. They won't have to go through the process of transferring previous credits if they take classes at their desired university.

In the event that students end up attending another college as opposed to the one they took courses at, fear not! Credits are transferable across most colleges, though it's a case-by-case basis. A credit policy at one college may be entirely different at another. Even if 4 credits somewhere is worth 3 credits somewhere else, the bottom line is that students are earning credit, and fast-forwarding their college graduation.

CLEP Exams

In addition to taking community college classes, those who want to get ahead can also complete CLEP exams; "CLEP" stands for "College Level Examination Program." Students have a wide variety of CLEP courses they can take, from introductory mathematics to a handful of world languages. After selecting a class and studying for it, they can put their knowledge to the test and complete exams that will grant them college credit.

These exams are accepted by over 2900 universities in the United States. Plus, they're affiliated with the CollegeBoard, so they're 100% legitimate! Although students will have to study on their own time, they can retake the exams whenever they want if they receive a bad score.

All the benefits of AP classes are there! Students can save money on expensive college courses--CLEP exams are $89 on average, compared to the $96 or more one has to pay for AP exams--and graduate months in advance.

But the best thing about these exams is that students can choose which ones to take, as opposed to the limited number of AP classes offered at their high school. This addresses the previous problem of having a weighted grade: students can earn college credit in addition to their standard courses in school, and can pick the subjects they find easiest to have a higher chance of earning credit.

Ultimately, students have to decide for themselves if they take AP classes. Yet if the ability to earn college credit at a cheaper price is the reason for taking them, there are other options.

If students are truly eager to prove college readiness, they can do other things, such as participate in extracurriculars or spend hours focused on an interest. These activities will prove to colleges the most important thing, something much more meaningful than academics: what students will contribute to their campuses and communities.

AP courses aren't the make or break for college applications; there are plenty of other ways to show one's dedication as a student and willingness to learn. One just has to branch out and look for them.

Sevasti Karonis
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Sevasti "Seva" Karonis is an aspiring writer from New York, NY seeking to change the world one story at a time. When she's not writing, she can be found playing the guitar, listening to some Queen, or scrolling through Pinterest.