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College Bound: Understanding the importance of AP classes, exams

Posted March 3, 2013

As students begin planning their course selections for next year, families need to understand the full importance of taking AP classes.

AP classes are college-level courses, normally taught at high school. They offer a challenging curriculum, which gives students a taste of college level coursework. Courses are offered in a variety of areas - English, math, history, science, foreign language, computer science and music. Offerings vary widely by school.

AP courses are considered the most rigorous coursework available for a high school student. Nationally, the class of 2012 reported more than 32 percent of high school graduates had taken at least one AP course. Colleges, especially selective ones, highly encourage students to attempt these classes as they view this as a sign that you are challenging yourself and refining your skills to succeed in college.

At the end of the course, students have the option of taking an AP exam. These scores, on a scale of 1 to 5, indicate the preparedness of a student for college. In most Wake County public schools, students who take AP courses are given two extra quality points to their final grade. These additional quality points can raise a student’s weighted GPA as well as class rank.

Students attempt AP courses for many reasons. Many hope to increase their GPA and rank. Some students hope to earn college credit while still in high school, thus shortening their time in college. Many students in competitive high schools, hoping to attend selective colleges, need to ensure that they are keeping up with their classmates. Finally, others look for the challenging curriculum to prepare them for the rigors of college.

Because each student looks at AP courses differently, it is important to understand why you are taking the course.

Traditionally, AP courses are encouraged for students who have succeeded in honors level courses with A's and occasionally B's. While AP courses can increase you class rank, colleges still look at your unweighted GPA. So earning a C in an AP course is not looked on favorably by a selective college.

However, it is up to each student to determine if the gains earned in that class are more important than the final grade, particularly if they do well on the AP exam.

Students who score above a 3 on an AP exam are considered to be qualified to receive college credit or advanced placement for that course once they enter college. This exam score has no impact on the class grade.

However, how a college accepts these credits varies widely according to the school. In North Carolina, students at UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State are not limited to the number of credits that they can bring in with AP courses. Duke, on the other hand, has set more limits when it comes to AP credit. Recently, Dartmouth College announced that beginning with students entering in fall 2014, it will no longer grant college credit for AP examinations.

Again, every college is different, so it is important to know what your goal is when taking an AP course.

As high schools increase the difficulty of their standard course of study, and colleges increase their admissions selectivity, students and their parents need to take the time to evaluate exactly what courses are being taken in high school.

Although AP courses are not appropriate for all students, they offer a challenging curriculum for not only advanced students, but those students who are eager to learn and willing to work hard.

Christine M. Hall, Ed.D., is owner of CMH College Consulting in Cary. Hall, who has children of her own, offers advice on the college application and decision process here on Go Ask Mom from time to time.


 

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