Advanced Placement (AP) courses can save you time and money. They can also give you an edge in the applicant pools of highly selective colleges and universities.
The national AP program is administered by The College Board. Participating high schools have been approved to teach AP courses based on the academic quality of their college-preparatory or, as it is commonly known today, honors curricula. Some high schools offer only a few AP classes; others can offer a dozen or more.
AP courses are college-level courses, taught with college textbooks and exams that can give you college credit in the form of advanced standing when you enter your freshman year. There is an end-of-course AP final on which you have to score a 3, 4, or 5 (depending on the college to which you are applying) in order to get college credit. Some colleges will recognize a grade of 3 as qualifying for credit. Most, though, require a 4 or 5.
AP college credit is a good buy. At this writing, an AP course can be taken for the price of registering for the final exam, which is less than $100. You'll find that price hard to beat when looking for a deal on college credit.
Another aspect provided by AP courses is a preview of college-level work. If you have any doubts about doing well in college, an AP course can confirm them or put your mind at ease. They're a lot of work and require much reading, writing, problem sets, and - for the science courses - lab time. They'll give you a real feeling of accomplishment, though, when you're done.
If you are taking AP courses specifically to reduce the amount of credits you'll have to take once in college, or to have specific classes "waived" during your freshman year, be aware that every college treats these classes differently. Taking AP English does not necessarily get you out of taking English 101 at a particular school. Not every college will promise an exact equivalency between the AP course you take and a specific class necessary to graduate - or even an elective, for that matter.
Two things to remember: First, at most colleges the faculty (not the admissions office) decides how an AP course is treated in light of all credits needed to graduate. Ask the college department that seems the most likely to review the AP course. Second, most colleges now have a common first-year experience, many with a predetermined set of core courses all freshmen must take. English 101 may not even exist anymore! How will your AP credits be recognized within the common curriculum? Call and find out before you assume that your credits will transfer over "one-for-one."
A reasonable schedule might be to take one AP sophomore year, two junior year, and two or three senior year. Most students aspiring to the very best colleges and universities graduate with five or more AP courses on their transcripts. Remember, to college admissions people, a B in an AP course is worth more than an A in a lesser course.
• Bob McDonnell is executive director of Arizona College Planners, L.L.C., a member of the College Planning Network, the National Association of College Funding Advisors and the National Association of College Acceptance Counselors. For questions, email Info@ArizonaCollegePlanners.com.