Complete Guide to AP Classes

With more students pursuing college degrees, competition at top schools is stiff. Renowned universities like the California Institute of Technology, Harvard University and Columbia University accept 4% or less of applicants.

One way to stand out is by taking advanced placement (AP) courses while you’re in high school. These courses give you a taste of what college classes will be like, could help you earn college credits, and they can give you a competitive edge on your college applications.

Learn more about the benefits of AP classes and how they can impact your future.

What is an AP Class?

AP classes are a popular option for high school students throughout the country. According to The College Board, the organization behind the national AP program, nearly 35% of public high school students took at least one AP exam.

AP courses are high-level courses for high school students. Although most commonly taken by high school juniors and seniors, first-and second-year high school students are eligible for AP courses too. However, these courses are rigorous; they’re designed to be college-level classes, so they may be more challenging than your other classes.

As of 2024, there are 39 AP courses available in the following subjects:

  • Arts
    • AP 2-D Art and Design
    • AP 3-D Art and Design
    • AP Drawing
    • AP Art History
    • AP Music Theory
  • English
    • AP English Language and Composition
    • AP English Literature and Composition
  • History and Social Sciences
    • AP Comparative Government and Politics
    • AP European History
    • AP Human Geography
    • AP Macroeconomics
    • AP Microeconomics
    • AP Psychology
    • AP United States Government and Politics
    • AP United States History
    • AP World History: Modern
  • Math and Computer Science
    • AP Calculus AB
    • AP Calculus BC
    • AP Computer Science A
    • AP Computer Science Principles
    • AP Precalculus
    • AP Statistics
  • Sciences
    • AP Biology
    • AP Chemistry
    • AP Environmental Science
    • AP Physics 1: Algebra-Based
    • AP Physics 2: Algebra-Based
    • AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism
    • AP Physics C: Mechanics
    • AP Psychology
  • AP World Languages
    • AP Chinese Language and Culture
    • AP French Language and Culture
    • AP German Language and Culture
    • AP Italian Language and Culture
    • AP Japanese Language and Culture
    • AP Latin
    • AP Spanish Language and Culture
    • AP Spanish Literature and Culture

Which courses are available and what the eligibility requirements vary by school, so talk to your high school counselor to find out what courses you can take.

Benefits of AP Classes

AP courses are intensive classes, but successfully completing them can give you a major head start in your college career. Taking an AP course provides the following benefits:

Prepare for College

As college-level courses, AP classes give you a unique opportunity to learn what college coursework is like. AP courses tend to require more independent work and discussion than traditional high school classes, so it’s an excellent opportunity to gain experience for what’s to come after graduation.

In fact, a 2023 study released by The College Board found that students that take just one or two AP classes are more likely to complete college within four years than students who didn’t take AP courses.

Stand out to colleges

Particularly if you’re applying to selective colleges or universities, the courses that you take can make a difference on your chances of admission. When colleges review student applications, they consider several factors, including your grades, extracurricular activities and the courses you take.

According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling, nearly 64% of colleges said the strength of a student’s high school curriculum was of considerable importance in admissions decisions the third-highest factor after high school grades in college prep courses and total high school grades. As a result, taking AP classes and passing the AP exams could give you a competitive edge.

Earning college credit

Many colleges and universities will accept AP courses as college credits if you pass with a high enough score. Although the requirements vary by school, you typically need a passing score of at least three on the AP exam for it to qualify for college credit.

AP courses can count toward college-required core or introductory classes, so you can improve your odds of graduating with a bachelor’s degree within four years (or less).

You can use The College Board’s AP Credit Policy Search tool to find out how the colleges you’re considering handle AP courses.

Boost GPA

Because high school classes can vary in difficulty, some colleges consider weighted grade point averages (GPAs), meaning more rigorous classes like honors or AP classes are weighted more heavily. For example, an “A” grades in honors or AP classes could boost your GPA by up to one additional point.

Your grades in an AP class can help boost your overall GPA, helping your chances to get into the college of your choice.

Save on tuition and fees

If you take an AP course and pass the exam, you could earn college credits. Those credits may count toward your total credit hours or cover general or core requirements, reducing how many classes you need to complete in college to earn your degree. Depending on how many AP classes you pass and how many credits transfer, you could potentially graduate early and save money on tuition and fees.

Based on the average total cost of attendance at public and private universities which includes tuition, fees, textbooks and room and board graduating a semester early could help you save between $28,840 and $60,420.

Are taking AP Classes Worth it?

Although AP classes may seem intimidating, they’re well worth the effort. The benefits of taking AP classes are numerous. Not only will you get a taste of what to expect from college coursework, but you’ll also boost your chances of getting into your dream school, and you could potentially earn college credits.

You don’t need to take a full schedule of AP courses to enjoy the benefits of AP classes; taking just one or two AP classes is enough to give you a boost in the admissions process and prepare you for college.


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