What are AP classes and why do they matter?

Marc Feder
November 20, 2020

Feeling stressed and confused over the importance of AP classes? Are you not even aware of what AP courses are? You’re not alone.

High school students from all over the country are pondering the impact that AP classes have on their journeys to college. And many of them overthink it.

Thankfully we have some fantastic insight to share from Evelyn Jerome-Alexander at Magellan College Counseling.

Here’s what you learn in this ultimate guide to AP classes:


  1. What are AP classes anyway? 
  2. Why take AP classes?
  3. How many AP classes should I take? 
  4. How many credits are AP classes worth in high school? 
  5. What’s the hardest/easiest AP class?
  6. How to create an AP course plan in high school


Don’t like to read? Watch the videos instead!

Introducing our expert

At Everydae, we understand the importance of valuable and relatable information, which is why we get in touch with the most reliable sources. It was our pleasure to have spoken with Evelyn Jerome-Alexander from Magellan College Counseling

Magellan College Counseling is an organization that has helped hundreds of students with the college process. Ranging to standardized testing to basic questions about high school, they provide great support for motivated high school students. Our interviewee, Evelyn, is a college counselor and also the founder of Magellan College Counseling. She has amazing knowledge in education and has been working with high school students for over 25 years. 

Evelyn became involved with the college admissions process through her leadership in the Johns Hopkins Second Decade Society of the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences.  Evelyn co-chaired the Society’s Admissions Committee for seven years, and in that time, spearheaded an initiative to recruit underrepresented minority students to Johns Hopkins.  She continued her volunteer work by appearing at college fairs, interviewing student applicants, visiting high schools, and training other alumni across the country to volunteer in these capacities.

There she is!


What are AP classes anyway?

Watch the interview clip and/or read below to find out.


AP stands for Advanced Placement, which are college level courses that are operated by the College Board. These higher level courses are offered at high schools to provide students an opportunity to earn college credits.

Each AP course is associated with a large test that the course is oriented for. The test occurs at the end of the year and usually consists of a multiple choice and writing portion. Depending on your performance on the AP test, you will be given a score from one to five (1-5). A three 3 is good, a 4 is really good and a 5 is outstanding.

Why take AP Classes?

Is it better to take AP Classes? What happens if I don’t take any?


AP classes give you an opportunity to challenge yourself in a particular field of interest. Possible AP options include areas of study such as physics, biology, chemistry, computer science, calculus, history, and more. Click here to see the full list of AP courses offered by the College Board.

AP classes show colleges that you are challenging yourself, and can handle the academic rigor of a college-level course.

Schools are aware of the amount of AP courses that are offered at your school and what level courses you take through your transcript. There isn’t any harm if you don’t take any AP classes. However, if you want to attend a highly-selective college, AP courses will be a great boost in displaying your dedication to academics, and your ability to handle the workload once you’re on campus.

More importantly, AP classes give you a sense of the material you will be exposed to in the particular major you pursue at college. 

As Evelyn explains:

“Don't necessarily take every AP class offered. Take a look at what's offered and choose the ones that are honestly the most interesting to you. And that might sort of match the direction that you're planning on going when you go to college.”

How many AP classes should I take? 

Is more always better? 

The short answer is no. This is one of the biggest mistakes that high-achieving high schoolers make - they think that more is better, and when they see a classmate cramming as many AP classes into their schedule, they feel pressure to keep up. This is not necessary.

Evelyn explains the danger of taking too many AP courses:

“Think about how much rigor your student can really take and be successful. And when I say successful, I don't mean straight “A's”. It is okay to get a “B” in an AP class. But if you had straight “A's” in 9th grade and then suddenly everything in 10th grade looks like a “B”. And then in 11th grade everything looks like a “B”, that's kind of a downward trend. And that's not a good thing.”

Take an amount of AP classes where you don’t overwhelm yourself and experience a decline in your academics. A common issue is that students are overly determined, taking the maximum amount of AP Classes possible. This usually stems from the idea that more is better, and is reinforced by the constant competition and pressure to outdo each other.

However, in most cases, students are unable to take the heavy load from each AP class. What results from this overcommitment is a decline in academic performance. Although colleges may find it appealing that you are challenging yourself, colleges also expect students to be able to determine their limits. Displaying a decline in academic performance, from all A’s to all B’s, is going to raise flags for colleges. 

While there isn’t a golden number as to the number of AP courses you should take, it is recommended that you explore at least a few courses in areas that interest you. That should always be the key decision point regarding which AP classes to take and how many... just follow your interests.


How many college credits are AP classes worth in high school? 

This is a great question! It’s important to know the benefits of taking such rigorous courses. To start, the amount of credit that you receive depends on your AP score. In most cases, credits are given to students who receive at least a 3 (out of 5) on the AP exam. As for the amount of credits you earn, it varies per class and score. Some classes such as AP Calculus BC will grant you 6-10 credits if you get a score of 4-5.

One significant benefit of taking AP classes is that earning college credits can help you save money by not having to pay to take certain classes once you get to college. 


What’s the hardest AP class? What’s the easiest AP class?


Determining what AP class is the hardest is really subjective. Although there are clear distinctions, for example AP Calculus AB versus BC, the level of difficulty really depends on each student's strengths and weaknesses.

In most cases, difficulty of a course is dependent on the amount of interest that a student has in that particular field. For some, mathematics may be most difficult, while for other humanities and the sciences in the greater challenge. In any case, schools should provide you with the opportunity to try classes for a certain period of time and drop the course without penalty on your transcript.

We recommend exploring courses that interest you. Therefore, with the same token, there really isn't an “easiest AP class” unless you are talking about courses that differ in level such as AP Calculus AB versus BC, where BC is stated to be harder. 


How do I create an AP course plan in high school?

What is the best route to take? Watch this interview clip and read on...


The move from 8th grade to 9th grade is the best time to start creating an AP course plan.

Most high schools have a school profile that contains all the AP courses that the school offers. Colleges know how many AP courses your school offers so it’s very crucial to keep in mind what opportunities you have. One important thing to remember is the great jump in difficulty when entering high school. It’s important to understand how much stress a student can take before registering for many AP courses.

As previously mentioned, while taking a lot of AP courses may help later on, it’s equally important to do well in each one. As for the general plan, in the first two years of high school you’re most likely going to be completing your required core courses. Entering junior and senior year, there will be more room for APs.

It is generally advised that you take around three to six (3-6) AP courses within the last two years of high school.

Just remember, manage your schedule well and know your limits!

FAQs:


Q: Which is more important, the class grade or AP score?

A: Students often ask this question because the AP exams are towards the end of the year, placing a lot of pressure on a student’s ability to retain the material they accumulated throughout the year. The short answer is that they are both important but for different reasons. From a college admissions point of view, your grades from your AP classes send a signal to the admissions committee how you might be able to handle the academic rigor of college-level coursework. Meanwhile, your AP exam score can help you place out of a college course all together, which will save you money.

IMPORTANT: You do NOT have to submit your AP exam score in your application. If you have a good score, then definitely include it because that is yet another data point that can highlight your academic abilities. But if you're on the fence, know that you do not need to submit your AP exam score in your application.

Q: What does the future of AP testing look like due to the pandemic?

A: Students who have taken the 2020 AP exams can tell you that it was all online. There were some issues with submitting exams, but the College Board has or is currently working on fixing those problems for future exams. The College Board is also working on rolling out more AP courses that focus on diversity and inclusion.

Q: How can we remember everything for the AP test?

A: There are a lot of study resources out there. No matter what you use, whether it's a book or an online study tool like Everydae, the key is to not procrastinate! Research shows that small, consistent daily practice yields better results than last-minute cram courses or memorizing flashcards.

Q: Do colleges require AP scores?

A: No they do not. But taking AP classes can improve your chances of getting into college because it shows initiative. It sends a signal to the admissions committee that you are willing to take on academic challenges, and gives them a clear way to predict if you will be able to handle the rigor of college-level courses when you arrive on campus.

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