Launch Global Education
Sparks blog: AP–Yes, No, or Maybe?

by Mr. Michael Wagner

May’s Advanced Placement (AP) tests have recently concluded. This two-week window is one of the most stressful, anxiety-ridden periods of the entire school year for students who pursue taking this college-level coursework while in high school. The typical AP school calendar stretches over months, typically beginning sometime in August and culminating during the first two weeks of May. The exams are an annual event where students sit in assigned rooms in specific seating arrangements with a proctor (maybe someone they know, maybe not), and take an exam that will last anywhere from two and a half hours to three hours and 45 minutes (and for students who have accommodations, which allow for certain testing adjustments, an AP exam can last close to five hours).

Is it worth it?

I am often asked questions about the purpose of taking AP exams. The most common questions include whether students need to take AP classes, whether it is worth it to do so, and if it is “a must” if students want to attend a good college. I am not here to choose a side between AP classes and exams—good or bad, but rather to provide some information on the AP program.

The Advanced Placement program was designed to allow students to enroll in college-level courses while still in high school. Course developers create an overview of the courses, determine the content to be covered, establish course syllabi and requirements, and prepare the exams content. These developers are college faculty and highly experienced high school AP teachers who work together to make sure that the course expectations, requirements, and exam content meets colleges and universities’ expectations for college credit.

Bubble sheet

It's not just a score

The attention surrounding the AP program always seems to fall on how students score on the AP exam (after all you need at least a score of 3 or above to possibly get college credit). However, the Advanced Placement program has multiple facets that make it a comprehensive academic offering for schools to offer to their students. Beyond the potential of college credit, the program also allows students to gain the experience of what college-level courses will feel like. Another benefit of the program is the weighting of a student’s grade point average (GPA), as many high schools give students an additional point toward their GPAs for taking AP classes. This can result in students maintaining GPAs greater than 4.0. Taking AP courses can also show colleges and universities that students challenged themselves by taking the highest level of academic rigor the school offered. But the AP program is not one-size-fits-all.

The good news is that students don't need to take AP classes to get into college (or a good college). I have had many students go to outstanding colleges and universities who have never taken an AP class, or may have taken only one or two. These students still went on to have very successful college experiences.

Desks in an emply room

So, what should you do?

If you are ready to take your learning to the next level, then challenge yourself with the academic rigor. Go for it! If you achieve a high score on the exam, you could obtain college credit. Just remember that there is no easy route when it comes to a program like AP, so be prepared to work hard and put in long hours (and keep complaining to a minimum).

However, if you aren’t ready, don’t get caught up in it and feel pressured because it’s what others are doing. Just like applying to colleges, everyone has their own path. Taking AP classes is one path for students, but not the only one. If students do not take AP classes, that’s ok. The thing I advise is to work hard and get the best possible grades in whatever classes you are taking. Having a transcript with excellent grades is the best way a student can show admissions representatives that they have the academic ability to be successful at the college level.

Question mark on crumpled paper

And remember, even though grades remain the number one factor considered in college applications, they are only one part of your story. Should AP classes be part of your story?

The answer is a definite maybe.

Mr. Michael J. Wagner

Michael Wagner, MAED is a founder and the Knowledge Pilot for Launch Education.  Mr. Mike has assisted hundreds of students around the world on their college pathways.