How Important are AP Classes?
AP classes look good on paper and most high schools will share the list of AP courses to prove their academic rigorousness. But are they the best option?
BY Lutheran High School Guidance Dept
When we meet with engaged parents who are invested in their children’s academic success, we often field questions about advanced placement — or AP — classes. AP classes were created by the non-profit College Board (If that name sounds familiar to you, it could be because they also run the SAT) in the 1950s to give high school students an opportunity to complete entry-level college work.
AP classes quickly became a defining feature for schools that considered themselves academically rigorous. It stands to reason that the more college-level coursework completed, the better off students will be, right?
While AP classes are still a strong way to introduce college-level work to high school students, their importance — and in particular their impact on college acceptance and performance — has evolved in recent years.
So, are AP classes really that important?
The short answer is: yes and no. Not to worry, though, we won’t leave you high and dry with that answer! Here’s a deeper look at how we view AP courses here at LuHi, along with some advice to help best prepare your child for high school and college success.
- Dual-credit courses “one up” AP. Dual-credit courses are similar to AP in that they offer college credit for coursework completed while in high school. In a nutshell, AP courses prepare students to take a test that demonstrates their knowledge of college-level curricula.
Dual-credit courses actually enroll students in college courses while they are still in high school. Students completing dual-credit coursework get a true feeling for what it is like in college, and earn actual college credit. One important thing to note: AP classes don’t cost extra for students; however, dual-credit courses do incur a fee in order to be registered at a college.
- Colleges aren’t accepting as many AP exam scores as in the past. Ten or 20 years ago, many schools would accept a score of ‘3’ on AP exams. Some even accepted a ‘2’. Today, a majority of schools require a ‘4’ or ‘5’ to accept AP credit. We have found lately that the most prestigious schools are unlikely to even accept a ‘5’ from students. As a result of this continued trend, LuHi selectively offers AP coursework in core areas. In fact, we stopped offering science AP coursework altogether. Science and technology are evolving much too quickly for standardized AP tests to usurp the need for hands-on cutting-edge, college coursework.
- Focusing too much on AP classes can take away from the high school experience. High school years are some of the most critical years in the life of a young adult. That’s why LuHi meets with students at the end of their 8th grade year to craft a four-year high school plan. They’ll map out their years and goals, think about college and set a roadmap. Of course, that roadmap may change over the years, but we’ve found that having a plan in place helps Lutheran High students to accomplish their goals and better prepare for college and beyond.
When crafting and revising that plan, however, careful attention is paid to balance. An overload of AP or even dual-credit work can overwhelm students. Looking ahead to college is important, but not at the expense of a rewarding, successful high school experience. We want our students to be challenged, reach high, but enjoy the path along the way. Then, once students enter college, enjoy that experience too!
Ultimately, finding a balance in your high school curriculum will best prepare you for college. At Lutheran High, our guidance counselor understands what many schools seek in student transcripts and can help students choose a high school curriculum that provides necessary challenges while best preparing them for the future.
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