Are AP Tests Really Worth It?

Many high school juniors and seniors are enrolled in one, two, three, or even more AP courses, hoping to receive credit for their AP test scores and stand out in their college applications. But are AP tests really worth it? Here are the pros and cons of these college-level courses and exams.

Since freshman year you’ve probably been hearing about AP tests and how they boost your chances of getting into the college of your choice. You might have even taken one or two early in your high school career. By junior and senior year, the importance of AP tests is ratcheted up even more, and many upperclassmen are enrolled in one, two, three, or even more AP courses. But are AP tests really worth it? How much do they matter in the grand scheme of college and college applications for a high school student?

AP courses and tests can definitely help distinguish your college application. In fact, according to the College Board, “85 percent of selective institutions report that a student's AP experience favorably impacts admission decisions.” Colleges recruit by a number of demographics, including geography. Taking advantage of AP courses offered in your school or location will make you look more competitive than those around you who do not. However, colleges want to see that you’re performing to your best ability given your circumstances. If your school only offers a limited selection of AP courses, most colleges shouldn’t expect you to have taken many AP tests.

Needless to say, only passing AP test scores will really enhance your application. There’s no nominal reward for simply attempting an AP test—though taking AP courses and exams can show that you are challenging yourself, which admission committees appreciate. But colleges want to see that you have the intellect and work ethic to succeed at these high-level courses, and unfortunately, only 3s, 4s, or 5s can tell them that.

The importance of AP courses and tests also depends on the school to which you’re applying. If you already have an idea of where you want to apply, it’s worth giving their admission department a call to find out how they factor AP test scores into their decisions.

Related: Advanced Placement Test Scores: How Will They Affect Your College Admission?

High AP test scores can boost your applications when applying to college, but they also have a few benefits once you’ve been accepted. Most schools offer credit for passing AP course grades and test scores. They won’t excuse you from major college courses and certainly won’t fill many degree requirements, but they could get you out of numerous general education requirements and other 100-level courses or electives. Knocking out these credits allows you to plan a more comfortable schedule, as you won’t have to take as many classes to graduate. More importantly, it allows you to get a jump-start on your degree requirements.

Getting these basic credits out of the way can also grant you the breathing room to experiment. An estimated 20­%–50% of students enter college undecided on their major, and approximately 75% change their major at least once, according to The Undecided College Student: An Academic and Career Advising Challenge. You’ll have much more room in your schedule to explore different fields of study and discover your interests if your AP tests cover some of your general requirements. If you already know what you want to study, you might even be able to graduate a semester or two early. This in turn can also save you money. Test fees may amount to a couple hundred dollars, but by filling gen eds that allow you to graduate early and help you qualify for more scholarships (search for them here!), AP tests can potentially save you thousands in tuition, textbooks, and other school fees.

The amount of credit AP scores can satisfy depends entirely on the university. While most schools will readily give credit, many higher-tier schools like Brown, Dartmouth, and Columbia give next to none. You can use this tool from the College Board to see how the schools you’re interested in treat AP scores.

So…are AP courses worth it? Well, they won’t make or break your application, and ultimately your extracurriculars/leadership experience, SAT or ACT scores, and overall high school progression/GPA are more important. However, they can give you a leg-up on similarly qualified applicants and set you up for success once you begin your college career.

Like what you’re reading?

Join the CollegeXpress community! Create a free account and we’ll notify you about new articles, scholarship deadlines, and more.

Join Now

Tags:

About Evan Brown

I’m a 20-year old sophomore at Indiana University. Though below average in height I make up for it in…well, I’m still figuring that out. Indecision and future planning haunt me, so I distract myself by pondering language, analyzing stories, and figuring out what to eat for lunch. I’m not searching for my purpose in life. I’m manifesting my own. Pasta sounds good today.

 

Join our community of
over 5 million students!

CollegeXpress has everything you need to simplify your college search, get connected to schools, and find your perfect fit.

Join CollegeXpress
Katelyn

Katelyn

High School Class of 2021

CollegeXpress gave me options of schools with my major and from there I was able to pick what was most important to me in a school. Everything was so organized that I could see all the information I needed.

Leah Maciel

Leah Maciel

High School Class of 2021

CollegeXpress has helped me with all aspects of applying for college. The website is extremely easy to navigate and gives access to so many resources. I was able to research all of the colleges I was interested in, find out any information I wished to know about, and keep them organized in a list. I've also been able to research scholarships and save them as resources for later. I've used many websites in my college and scholarship search, and CollegeXpress has by far been my favorite one to use.

Laura Wallace

Laura Wallace

High School Class of 2019

My favorite part of CollegeXpress is that it features student writers so I get an inside perspective from students slightly older and farther along than me. I realize that other college websites also utilize student writers; however, I relate the most to the college writers that I read articles from on CollegeXpress.

Jeannie Borin, MEd

Jeannie Borin, MEd

President and Founder, College Connections

I frequently visit CollegeXpress to answer questions from students and parents. There are countless hot topics in admissions that need to be addressed. I enjoy reading what my colleagues post and gain additional insight from different perspectives.

Khush

Khush

High School Class of 2021

CollegeXpress is a multi-maneuver platform that has been helping students in their college applications and scholarship hunt process. For me, CollegeXpress has been a boon. I've been able to find my dream university via CX, and I've also been able to apply to thousands of scholarships through it. All the thanks to CollegeXpress for doing such a great job for free. I express my sincere gratitude to you for doing such a wonderful job. I recommend CollegeXpress without any reservations.

College Matches
X

Colleges You May Be Interested In

University of Idaho

Moscow, ID

Rhode Island College

Providence, RI

Bradley University

Peoria, IL

Hiram College

Hiram, OH