How to Earn a Semester Off in College Using AP Credits

By Beth Dumbauld

Why take an Advanced Placement (AP) course? Who really cares if you push yourself academically by taking an AP, or other college-level course, while in high school before even entering college? It’s a good question. A college might or might not care, depending on its academic rigor and selection process. On one hand, taking an AP course shows colleges you are serious about your academics and are willing to challenge yourself with advanced courses. On the other hand, taking an AP course, and doing poorly on it and the corresponding AP exam, may not offer any advantage to you as a student. As a college prospect, failing an AP class at your high school has the possibility of reeking havoc on your overall grade point average and causing you to have second thoughts about your ability to do well in college. You want to enter college motivated, not demoralized.

That’s not to say pursuing AP courses isn’t a worthy goal. You, and your family, should care deeply about the financial and time advantages an AP course offers a student as they move along the college path. Sometimes it’s not your academic ability, but rather your schedule that doesn’t match up to the rigid scheduling demand and time commitment of the traditional AP course offered by high schools.

Does that mean AP classes should be reserved for those who can only fit them into their already-busting-at-the-seams schedule? Absolutely not. AP courses are for everyone. With online courses, there is now the technology to fit AP courses within even the most unpredictable of schedules. Given the rapidly escalating cost of college, every student deserves at least the opportunity to save money by earning college credit before entering school. Passing AP exams with qualifying scores can help you do just that. Earning AP credits before attending college can allow you to possibly transfer those credits to that college (depending on your scores and their minimum qualifying guidelines), and enter college at an advanced point. AP courses can save you serious time and serious money.

What Is an AP Course Versus an AP Exam?

An Advanced Placement (AP) course is one that covers material at a more advanced level than your average high school class. In fact, an AP course exposes students to college level material. There are 34 AP courses, along with their corresponding exams, to choose from including subjects like biology, calculus, macroeconomics, microeconomics, chemistry, physics, psychology, history, foreign languages, and English.1 Each course, upon completion, has a corresponding standardized AP Exam. Typically, you take an AP course through your high school in-school AP program or, alternatively, through an online course provider.

An AP exam, on the other hand, is the exam you can take after taking an AP course. Each May, AP exams are given for each of the 34 AP courses. By registering for an AP exam before the required deadline, and taking the exam, you will be eligible to receive AP credits depending on your exam scores. It is the standardized AP exam scores, not your grade in the class, which determines your AP credit transfer eligibility at the colleges you are considering attending. Your AP score will be reported on a 1- to- 5 numerical basis. A 1 indicates a no recommendation for college credit and a 5 indicates extremely well qualified to receive a college credit.2

1 The College Board, AP Courses & Exams, 2012.

2 The College Board, AP: The Score-Setting Process, 2012.