Some two million high school students across the globe gave a big sigh of relief today as the 2010 AP exam weeks came to a close.
Though the grueling amount of classwork and inevitable stress and lack of sleep involved with taking AP classes may deter many students from the program, taking AP exams for college credit is economical in most cases and can give college applications an added boost.
The Advanced Placement (AP) program was initiated in 1955 and offers college courses in a high school setting. Students can get college credit for AP classes in 33 different subjects by passing the national AP exam for their respective subject. To pass, students must earn a three or better on a scale of one to five--one being the lowest and five being the highest possible score. Though not every school offers every AP class, popular course offerings in include AP United States History, Spanish Language, and Calculus and Biology.
A majority of high schools, those in the San Ramon Unified School District included, will also consider the rigor involved with taking a college-level class when calculating grade point average (GPA)--AP and honors courses are weighted and thus garner an additional point in the grade-point average, such that a B grade in an AP class counts the same as an A grade in a regular class.
So what's the catch?
The individual tests cost $86 apiece and, with the added cost for providing exam proctors and classroom supplies, can come out to $105. What's more, a number of private schools, Ivy Leagues included, have their own specifications and often provide only limited AP credit. Sometimes a score of four or five is needed to qualify for college credit, and individual colleges and universities may decide whether or not to reward AP credits at all.
But as Cal High's career center coordinator Harvalee Grimm pointed out, taking an AP class in high school really can be financially worth it.
"In the AP program, students can take a college course in high school that's free, besides the exam fees," said Grimm. "It really is a gift."
Grimm used cost analysis to show that the per-unit cost of UC and CSU courses can be up to $900. Per-unit cost is the annual tuition divided about 15, the average number of units taken each academic year. AP tests earn students an average of three units of college credit each. Even taking a three-unit class at a community college would come out to around $80--and that's not counting textbook fees.
According to Cal High counselor Michelle Sampson, taking AP exams can be beneficial in other ways as well.
"Colleges and universities, especially UCs, like to see that students take on a challenging workload in high school and prove that they learned the course material by taking the national exams," said Sampson. "We encourage students to take the AP exams because it demonstrates follow-through on their transcripts."
Senior Tarun Battu, who will be attending UC Berkeley in the fall, had mixed feelings. On average, he said, each AP test he passed earned him 5.3 college credits. Yet his college workload is hardly less intense because of them.
"AP classes were good classes to prepare for college and they really do get people out of some credits," said Battu. "But I'm still retaking classes that AP tests would get me out of because the classes at Berkeley are a lot more intense than they were at Cal High, and if I skipped them I would be ill-prepared for upper-division classes."
So are AP tests worth it?
Like all things, it depends. If you are interested in the material, work hard for a good grade in the weighted class and study hard enough to pass the AP exam, then the $86 test fee may go a long way for you. It won't put you a year ahead toward graduation, but AP shines on transcripts and can potentially save money and time.