What is an AP Course in High School? Everything You Need to Know About AP Classes

What you Need to know about AP Courses.

Written by Jason

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Last updated Apr 30, 2024 | Published on Apr 30, 2024

Once you get to high school, you can tap into a whole set of new and interesting opportunities. From new activities to leadership opportunities, you literally have the world at your fingertips. 

Now, it can be incredibly difficult to find your path in high school, and you may also wonder what kind of classes you should take. Someone might also mention something called “AP courses” — but what are they and how do you decide whether you should take them?

Let’s focus on this question: What is an AP course in high school, and should you take one? By the time you are finished reading, you will have a better idea of everything you need to know about AP classes.

Key Takeaway

An Advanced Placement (AP) course in high school is a college-level class that follows a College Board-approved curriculum. Thousands of students take AP courses every year. They cover advanced material in various subjects and culminate in an AP exam and offer potential for college credit or advanced placement based on exam performance.

What Are AP Classes in High School?

First of all, what exactly is an AP class? 

 What is an AP Course in High School and Are They Right For You?

AP stands for “advanced placement,” which is a slate of classes the College Board developed to give high school students an introduction to college-level classes and gain college credit before graduating high school.

The varied courses offered follow a college-level curriculum that is typically taught in introductory college courses. You can also take the corresponding AP exam, which is administered by the AP College Board (the same organization that administers the PSAT, the test that prepares you for the SAT). 

Why would you want to take the exam? Many colleges and universities in the United States offer college credit or advanced placement to students who earn certain scores on AP exams, which we will cover later. In other words, you may be able to place out of introductory courses and move into more advanced coursework. 

Any grade you earn in an AP class may be weighted more heavily than a grade earned in your standard classes, so you could boost your GPA — another feather in the cap of AP classes! This can prove to colleges and universities you apply to that you “have what it takes” to succeed at the college level.

Can Anyone Take an AP Class?

Check with your school counselor about the requirements set by the school. They may require teacher recommendations or other prerequisites. Prior to deciding, it is a good idea for you to consider your:

  • Academic preparedness
  • Interest
  • Motivation
  • Time commitment
  • Future goals

Who Are AP Classes Right for? 

AP classes are ideal for high school students who are engaged and degree-driven and who understand the importance of early college credit. Let’s go through a few characteristics of students AP classes are ideal for you if you are: 

AP Course Selection

  • High achieving with a strong work ethic
  • College-bound
  • Intellectually curious 
  • Seeking college credit
  • Interested in challenging yourself 
  • Interested in exploring potential majors

If you perform well academically and seek more challenging coursework, want to prepare for the demands of college-level courses, have a strong interest in a particular subject area, are disciplined, want to seek college credit or want to learn more about a particular field, AP classes may be right for you.

List of AP Classes You Can Take

So, what are the classes you can take? That is a great question, because you might be reluctant to take advantage of AP classes if they do not interest you. However, keep in mind that it might be worth taking an AP class that does not interest you so you do not have to take that particular class in college. 

It is important to recognize why you might want to take an AP class before you move in that direction. 

AP Capstone Diploma Program

The AP Capstone is not actually a course — it is a two-year program based on two classes, the AP Seminar and AP Research. They focus on helping you develop academic skills and showing college admission officers that you have the skills, experience, and passion to succeed in higher education.

Arts

The arts program includes the following: 

  • AP 2-D Art and Design
  • AP 3-D Art and Design
  • AP Drawing
  • AP Art History
  • AP Music Theory

English

The English AP courses include the following options: 

  • AP English Language and Composition
  • AP English Literature and Composition

History and Social Sciences

You can take classes in the history and social sciences area in the following areas:

  • AP Comparative Government and Politics
  • AP European History
  • AP Human Geography
  • AP Macroeconomics
  • AP Microeconomics
  • AP Psychology
  • AP United States Government and Politics
  • AP United States History
  • AP World History: Modern

Math and Computer Science

You can also take AP math and computer science classes: 

  • AP Calculus AB
  • AP Calculus BC
  • AP Computer Science A
  • AP Computer Science Principles
  • AP Precalculus
  • AP Statistics

Sciences

The sciences courses include: 

  • AP Biology
  • AP Chemistry
  • AP Environmental Science
  • AP Physics 1: Algebra-Based
  • AP Physics 2: Algebra-Based
  • AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism
  • AP Physics C: Mechanics
  • AP Psychology 

AP World Languages and Cultures

World languages and cultures options include: 

  • AP Chinese Language and Culture
  • AP French Language and Culture
  • AP German Language and Culture
  • AP Italian Language and Culture
  • AP Japanese Language and Culture
  • AP Latin
  • AP Spanish Language and Culture
  • AP Spanish Literature and Culture

What is an AP Exam? 

As mentioned before, AP courses offer the AP exam, which means you must take and pass an exam in order to gain college credit for the class. 

But what exactly does the exam cover? That is a great question. Let’s walk through it. 

AP Exam Testing

It covers the material in the AP course throughout the year. They vary in format and content depending on the subject, but can include multiple-choice questions, free-response and/or performance tasks. AP exams are available in a wide range of subjects, including but not limited to mathematics, science, history, English, foreign languages, computer science, and the arts. Each subject has its own exam, and students can choose to take exams in multiple subjects if they have completed corresponding AP courses.

AP exams are typically administered during the first two weeks of May each year and proctored by teachers or other authorized personnel at designated testing locations, such as high schools or testing centers.

What Are AP Scores?

AP exams are scored on a scale of one to five — five is the highest possible score. A score of three means you have passed, though you need to check with the college you plan to attend to see what score you need to achieve to qualify for credit. Generally, students who earn a score of three or higher may be eligible to receive college credit, advanced placement, or both.

As you might expect, earning a high score on an AP exam can benefit you! In addition to potentially earning college credit or advanced placement, strong performance on AP exams show very quickly that you have readiness for college-level coursework to admission offices (and do not forget about scholarship applications!).

Once you score the required AP score, send the exam results to the school you plan to attend.

Cost of AP Exams

You do have to pay to cover the cost of the AP exams, which costs $98 if you take it in the U.S., U.S. territories, Canada or the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA). It costs $128 if you take it outside the U.S. 

If you take the AP Seminar or AP Research Exam anywhere, it costs $146. You may pay a $40 late order fee for exams ordered between November 16 and March 15 for full-year or first-semester courses, but the fee does not apply to exams for courses that start after November 15 and exams for students that transfer into the school. 

If you decide not to take an exam that was ordered for you, you will pay $40 per exam instead of the full exam fee. 

Where Do You Take AP Classes?

Many students unfamiliar with AP classes wonder where they will take them, and they are surprised to learn they can take them right at their public or private high school. The teachers who teach them are trained by the College Board, the organization that administers the program. 

Some students can take AP classes through virtual learning platforms or online schools, which allow for online access through virtual learning platforms. They may also take them through dual enrollment programs with local colleges or universities, which means a professor may teach in the AP classroom. 

How to Find Out More About AP Classes at Your High School

The best thing you can do to find out more about AP classes at your high school is to visit with your school counselor. Your school counselor will give you the rundown of the types of things to consider, including how it will work into your schedule, the potential workload, and help you determine whether an AP class is right for you.

Pros and Cons of Taking AP Classes

You can point to several pros and cons of taking AP classes, and as mentioned before, they are not for everyone. However, let’s go through them, one by one.

Pros of Taking AP Classes

First, let’s discuss the benefits of taking AP classes. 

Save Money and Earn Credit

Taking AP classes can offer the benefit of saving money because you can replace certain college classes with AP classes at a fraction of the cost. An AP exam that costs $98 is a lot cheaper than attending a four-year college with a $40,000.00 out-of-pocket price tag.

Saving Money with College Credit

An AP exam allows you to earn credit as well for the classes you take. For example, if you take the AP psychology class and exam and score a four on it, you can earn college credit for that and get a head start on your college requirements. 

Give Yourself a Rigorous Experience

Feel as if your high school classes do not have quite enough “oomph?” They might not be challenging you in the right ways. AP classes offer an opportunity to challenge yourself at a higher level. If you know you need that extra boost, consider asking your school counselor whether you should switch to AP classes.

Get Your Foot in the Door at Colleges

There is no question about it — college admissions professionals like to see you challenge yourself in many different ways, including in classes. Doing well in AP classes can show the college or university that you have done the work necessary to succeed at the college level. 

Colleges look at your transcripts, and when you boost your transcripts with AP classes, you will have a great chance of showing them you have boosted your GPA. A high grade in an AP class is “worth” more than taking a regular class at your high school.

Feel Ready for College

What’s the best way to get ready for college classes? 

Take college classes! AP classes will get you ready for a more rigorous study opportunity. They can help you improve a great number of key skills, including public speaking, critical thinking, and writing. AP classes will give you a deeper understanding of the breadth of skills expected at the next level. 

Taking college preparatory classes like AP classes can help you feel more confident that you can handle what’s coming your way in college.

 What is an AP Course in High School? - Another Way  to Demonstrate Academic Excellence in a Subject Area.

Cons of AP Classes

It is also important to consider the downsides before you decide to take an AP class. Let’s take a look. 

Difficulty and High Workload

AP classes are demanding, there is no question. You will have ample time commitment outside of class and inside of class, particularly if you are taking several AP classes at once. Consider whether you have the time, energy, and bandwidth to commit to a more demanding schedule and workload.

Limited Flexibility and Course Selection

Not every class in the world is an option. In other words, can you take the History of Liechtenstein AP class? No. You can only take what is offered. 

Furthermore, you also have to work around the school’s AP class schedule, which might be at times that conflict with other courses you want to take. Consider checking with your school counselor about what time of day you would need to take the courses.

No Guarantees

The trickiest part of AP classes and exams is that there are no guarantees that they will work in your favor. In other words, taking AP classes might not guarantee admission to your preferred college or university. You also are not guaranteed to get the score you want to get on the AP exam — if you get a one or two, you are likely not going to get college credit for it. 

How Many AP Classes Should You Take?

How Many AP Courses Should You Take? Always Talks with your Teachers and Counselors.

The number you should take depends on various factors, and there’s no “one” factor. It could depend on your academic abilities, interests, schedule, and goals.

Above all else, maintain a healthy balance between your activities and physical well-being. Different students thrive with more, others require less. Ask for suggestions from your school counselor, parents, and other trusted adults in your life for advice before you commit.

Should You Take an AP Class?

It is completely up to you and the requirements of your school, and it is important to note that taking an AP class does not guarantee instant success. Do not take it because you think it will “look good” on college applications. If you think you are going to overexert yourself, consider nixing the idea. 

You can also ask upperclassmen at your school whether they enjoyed it, the commitment required, and other factors. Remember, you want to enjoy high school and leave plenty of time for the social aspects of high school as well!

However, if you want to use an AP class as a way to prepare for college, boost your GPA, save time and money in college, and increase your general knowledge, an AP class might be right up your alley.

FAQs

Take a look at some FAQs related to AP classes in case you still have questions!

Are AP classes in high school worth it?

This is a completely subjective question because it depends on various factors, including your personal goals, willingness to work at the class itself, and whether or not it offers you what you are looking to get out of it for your academic goals in college.

How much does an AP class boost your GPA?

An AP class typically boosts your GPA on a weighted scale, meaning that the grade you get in the class gives you additional points. The exact boost varies depending on your school’s grading system. You can learn more about it from your school counselor’s office. 

What is the hardest AP class?

As with anything, determining the “hardest” depends on the individual. However, you can easily count Calculus BC, Physics C, and Chemistry as three of the most difficult and rigorous courses of the AP curriculum.

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