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About this blog: I post articles to offer timely and substantive college admission guidance on important topics and issues. Originally from New York, I have a B.S. from Hunter College in NYC and advanced professional degrees from the University of...  (More)

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The Up and Down Sides to AP Coursework

Uploaded: May 26, 2012
A student asks Dr. LaScala: Will AP coursework help me get into college and will these courses get me through college faster?


Dear Alex,

Depending on how your particular school treats AP classes, an AP class can be worth a full grade higher than the regular track class (that's how some students push their GPAs beyond the 'perfect' 4.0!). And even if your high school does not inflate AP grades, many college admissions offices do it for you.

Good AP scores may reduce your eventual college course load and this could result is a shorter time in college. Generally, a high score on an Advanced Placement exam will equate to one semester of a college course. A high score is often a four or five out of the five point Advance Placement test. While it is theoretically possible for you to bypass an entire semester of college by taking several AP classes (which can save you thousands of dollars as well) it is not common. Many colleges do not accept AP scores for course credit. Others may require you to take its version of a similar course. The rationale offered is so you learn the material in a way that provides a proper foundation for the university's particular academic curriculum. Some colleges offer an assessment exam for the student to take before the college will accept the AP score for course credit. The assessment exam is comprehensive and a passing score can be difficult to achieve unless you have reviewed and studied the material. Your brain loses a great deal of content over the summer months!

Admissions staff often view AP classes as one indicator of a student's intellectual vitality and willingness to take the initiative to challenge him or herself. Since AP coursework is supposed to be college level, good grades in these classes and scores on the exams can show colleges you are ready for college success.

As you ponder the question of taking one or more AP classes, it is important to weigh the pros and cons and make a decision that provides balance. One way to do this is to limit the AP classes you take to those subjects that resonate with your interests and possible majors or career paths.

It is important to weigh carefully the potential bump in GPA and effect on admission outcomes with the fact that AP classes take more time. It is not uncommon for one AP class to involve two or even three hours of homework each weeknight. That's time you might better spend on your other classes, preparing for standardized tests and pursuing your extracurricular activities—not to mention getting some much needed sleep. That would be time well-spent.

Elizabeth LaScala Ph.D. guides college, transfer and graduate school applicants through the complex world of admissions. She develops best match college lists, offers personalized interview and essay coaching, and tools and strategies to help students tackle each step of the admissions process with confidence and success. Elizabeth helps students from all backgrounds to maximize merit and financial aid awards. Visit; Call (925) 891-4491 or email at
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