A Real Look at the Pluses and Minuses With Taking AP Classes

Many people look at taking as many AP exams as possible as a given.

Their parents push them to do it, teachers push the best students into classes, and guidance counselors tell you it will help in college admissions.

But is all of this actually true?

In this post I will take a look at my own and my friends' experience with the AP exam and share the benefits and problems with our obsession with it.

The Benefits

Let's start on a positive note and take a look at the benefits of AP exams.

Save $$ (Potentially)

You might be surprised. After all you have to pay ~$90 to take each exam, so aren't you losing money?

Not exactly.

Depending on where you go to college and whether you're interested in graduating early you can save a lot of money. And I mean a lot.

Many colleges give students credits for getting a 5 or a 4 on certain AP exams. This means that you don't always have to take the introductory classes and in some cases can completely skip a large number of classes with just one exam!

I would have had to take 4 semesters of a language in college if I didn't do well on my AP French exam, but since I did well I got 3 credits and could spend my time taking more useful classes.

More credits often means graduating early is a breeze. Not having to take intro classes frees up time for you to focus on your major and the extra credits mean that you will reach the required credits to graduate much earlier. 

Even heavy majors can often graduate a year earlier which means saving tens of thousands of dollars for most colleges.

Of course, you don't get the same benefit at all colleges, and not all colleges give you credit for good AP scores so be careful! Taking AP classes might make your intro classes much easier, but you won't be able to skip all of them at some universities.

Increase Chances of Getting Into a Good College (Maybe)

It depends on what you mean by good.

And what you mean by "increase chances."

Since "challenging yourself" in high school by taking hard classes is almost the default now, I would argue that you might be at a disadvantage if you don't take AP classes that your high school offers, but you won't be at a strong advantage if you do take those classes. 

Colleges do like to see you challenging yourself to whatever level is available at your high school, and if you don't have cool projects or useful things you'd be doing instead of taking AP classes then take the class and "challenge yourself" in that manner.

Unique Experiences

AP classes might make it easier to determine what major you might want to declare in college and what you might be interested in doing after college because they expose you to content you usually don't get to play around with in high school.

You might find out that you really hate chemistry lab experiments, or that you love the powerhouse of the cell, or that calculus isn't as boring as you thought.

Or you might find out nothing. Which brings us to my next point:

The Negatives

Let's be honest, most people take AP classes not because they want to, but because everyone else tells them they should. That leads to a ton of problems in the short, and in the long-term.

A Dislike of Wonderful Subjects

Many people learn to hate certain subjects that they may have found absolutely fascinating and even built a career in because of the way AP classes are taught. 

Most classes are taught "to the exam," and lack a meaningful connection between what you're learning and the real world. And even when teachers attempt to establish that meaningful connection, students miss it because they're so focused on learning stuff they will need for the good AP score.

Overemphasis on Performance

Most students don't learn a lot in AP classes.They get ready for the exam and promptly forget everything as soon as they exit the exam room.

This might allow them to get a good score, but this overemphasized the importance of singular performances and under-emphasizes what really matters in the real world: consistent, quality performance.

In an ideal world, students would learn what they are interested in instead of studying for one, big event.

Wasted Time

So much time is wasted on AP classes for students who might be much better off doing other things. 

Many otherwise passionate students are lured into the AP trap with the promises of getting into better colleges and toil away on classes they don't care about when they could be doing something much more useful in their long-term development.

Those music beats might not be useful in the short term. That website might not be useful in the short term. But if a student is interested in it, those skills will stay with them and might come in use later down the road. 

Either way, they will be much more useful than spending time learning stuff that will be forgotten right after the exam.

P.S. - If you are planning on taking the AP exam, maximize you chances of getting a 5 and not wasting time by using our book recommendations on this page

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