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College Resources

Advanced Placement Classes

So, you think of yourself as a good student.  You’re diligent when it comes to completing homework assignments.  You eagerly participate in class.  You never (okay rarely) leave a research paper to the last minute.  And, most important, you earn great grades.  That should be enough for an admissions committee right?  Not necessarily.

Certainly, good grades are the hallmark of a strong, capable student.  They highlight intellectual aptitude, a conscientious nature and an appreciation for learning.  Of course, these are attributes colleges value. However, more than just achieving, schools want to see that you push yourself and challenge yourself. They want evidence that you can grow academically and that you’re not content with simply exerting the minimum effort needed for success.  Further, they want to know that you’ll be able to handle college classes.  And that’s where advanced placement courses come into play.

Advanced placement classes (or APs in high school parlance) are typically the most challenging courses a school will offer.  Designed to reflect college classes, APs move more quickly and cover more material than your standard college prep course.  Since advanced placement classes are difficult, many high schools adjust the weight of the grades earned.  Therefore, while an “A” might equal a 4.0 in a regular class, it could be bumped up to say a 4.4 when achieved in an AP course.

However, you shouldn’t just indiscriminately register for as many APs as possible in the hopes of courting admissions officers.  Schools won’t be impressed if you struggle to get through the classes.  Instead, be strategic about which courses you sign up for.  Are you a history buff?  Try enrolling in AP European History or Government and Politics.  If you’re a self-described science nerd, think about taking AP Biology or Chemistry.  After all, there are over 30 advanced placement classes, ranging from standard subjects to music theory, studio art and even Chinese.  And while most high schools don’t offer all 30, there’s usually a wide assortment available.

Another great aspect of advanced placement courses is that you can actually earn college credit from them. Yes, you read that correctly.  You see, every AP class has a corresponding exam that’s given in May.  The tests are usually between two and three hours and typically consist of a combination of essay, short answer and multiple choice questions.  The exams are then scored on a scale of 1 to 5.  Though policies vary between colleges, often a 4 or a 5 (and the occasional 3) will earn you credit.  And this translates into time and money saved.  Additionally, sometimes a good score on an AP exam will afford you the option of skipping introductory classes in college.  That means you’ll be able to bypass a pre-requisite and jump right into more specialized courses.

You don’t need to actually have taken the AP class to sit for the test.  Conversely, you’re not necessarily required to take the exam even if you took the class.  However, if you feel confident with the material, you should definitely register.  There’s nothing to lose (well, aside from the fee) and college credit to gain!

Advanced placement classes are a fantastic way to add a little extra “oomph” to your transcript.  They demonstrate that you’re not afraid of hard work and they show your willingness to really engage in a subject.  And, most significant, by taking an AP course or four, you’ll highlight an intellectual maturity that universities seek to find in their students.



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Don Munce