A small debate has always taken place about Advanced Placement tests and their ability to help a student earn college credit. Advanced Placement (“AP” for short) is a program run by the College Board (makers of the SAT exam) to give high school students the ability to take college-level courses. Teachers are trained on the curriculum for these courses and there are many professional development opportunities for educators through the College Board. At the end of the course, there is a standardized exam (AP tests) that attempts to determine how much a student learned in that course.
Depending on the results of these tests, students can earn credits at many colleges and universities. Students who take multiple exams and earn high marks (the tests are graded 1-5, with 5 being the best score) can essentially transfer in a full-year’s worth of credit upon matriculating to college. The potential cost savings for families is enormous – imagine if 25% of your costs for college were now gone, or deferred into a graduate-level program. Additionally, students who typically get bored their junior and senior year with the standard or “honors” level high school courses have the opportunity to take advanced, college-level courses to keep them engaged, stimulated, and learning.
It sounds like a great thing, so why is there such debate? Well, colleges make a lot of money from tuition and if a student can get a four-year degree in three, the institution would lose out on another $20,000 to $50,000. You can see why colleges are now making their AP credit policies stricter and beginning to speak out about these courses being taught in high school (www.quickanded.com – Kevin Carey talks about Belmont University).
A big question that looms is ‘how many AP courses/tests should I take?’ The answer differs for every student. Even the brightest students may only be able to handle one or two AP courses per year. However, there are students who will take five, or even as many as eight, their senior year (I went for seven). Obviously colleges like to see students taking a difficult course-load their senior year, but not at the full expense of their grades. AP courses involve a lot of work and a lot of self-motivation. Also, AP courses are available in almost any subject. So there is no set number – students should take AP courses in the subjects they are most interested and motivated. The work and studying may even be enjoyable!