Advanced Placement® (AP®) courses by the College Board enable high school students to demonstrate their ability to achieve with a rigorous curriculum that is standardized across all schools. There are 30 courses available, and each culminates in an exam providing score on a 1-5 scale.
Colleges and universities may grant college credit or place students in a higher-level course when they earn a score of 4 or 5 on an AP exam, and it has become positive criteria for admissions. Admissions directors often consider high scores and AP courses listed on a transcript to assess how much rigor the student engaged in during high school. While there can be variation in grading across schools and the definition of honors courses differs from school to school, AP courses require specific content, ensuring uniformity regardless of where the student has taken the course.
Another perk of AP courses is that the student may hand-select individual subject areas in which they would like to show accomplishment. Unlike International Baccalaureate® (IB) programs and some honors programs that require a student to be all in or all out, AP courses allow students to select a full program or just a single course.
With all of these benefits, why wouldn't everyone pursue an AP course? Unfortunately, AP courses aren't available in every school, and schools may offer only a small selection of courses which may or may not be a fit for an individual student. Teachers must be highly qualified and individually certified to teach an AP course, so availability of staff may restrict a school's offerings. In addition, creating the master schedule for a high school becomes very complicated, and administrators must balance the availability of AP courses with other opportunities to demonstrate advanced achievement such as honors classes, IB courses, and college-level credits earned through dual enrollment programs. Students may choose to take AP courses through an online program outside of their high school, although this format requires them to assess whether or not they are a good candidate for online learning in addition to the rigor of an AP course.
Timing sometimes impacts students as well. All AP exams are proctored in May, regardless of an individual school's annual calendar. Therefore, schools with a later start date have a shorter time period to cover the material, which makes an already complex curriculum even more intense. Some students have other talents that require a great deal of their time, such as performing in a school play or participating in elite athletics. If such activities culminate with a performance or competitive season around the same time as the AP exams, then it may become too overwhelming to balance both activities and the student must prioritize how best to spend their limited time and energy.
Note that it is not necessary to take an AP course in order to take an AP exam. There are many ways to prepare, and students who have prepared using another rigorous curriculum may still opt to take the AP exam. In addition, students who take an AP course and show their coursework on a transcript may choose or be unable to take the AP exam and earn a score. It is worth consulting with any college or university the student seeks admission from to understand their policies around AP credits and placement after admission.
*Advanced Placement and AP are registered trademarks of the College Board. International Baccalaureate is a registered trademark of the International Baccalaureate Organization.