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Last update: June 4, 2024

5 minutes read

What is Advanced Placement (AP)?

Already thinking about college? Want to get an early start? Dive into the world of AP courses, where you can get a head start by earning college credits.

By Brian Flaherty, B.A. Economics

Edited by Rachel Lauren, B.A. in Business and Political Economy

By Brian Flaherty, B.A. Economics

Edited by Rachel Lauren, B.A. in Business and Political Economy

Ever felt like high school just isn't challenging enough for you? Or maybe you're just keen to dive deep into subjects you're passionate about, earning college credits before you even step foot on a university campus. Enter the world of Advanced Placement (AP) courses.

Key takeaways

  • AP courses offer college-level curricula to high school students
  • Successfully completing an AP exam can earn students college credits
  • AP courses can boost a student's GPA and impress college admissions

    What is AP (Advanced Placement)?

    Advanced Placement (AP) is a program in the United States and Canada crafted by the College Board, offering college-level curricula and exams to ambitious high school students. With good AP scores, colleges may allow you to skip intro courses, as well as grant you course credits.

    Why should you care about Advanced Placement (AP) courses?

    If you're looking to ramp up your high school experience or get a head start on college credits, AP courses might be your ticket. AP courses are not just another set of classes—they're designed to challenge you, push you out of your comfort zone, and help you dive deep into tougher subjects.

    The best part? They can also save you some cash in college.

    How can AP courses impact college costs?

    Once you ace that AP exam, you're pretty much golden. Many colleges in the US and beyond might grant you placement or even course credit.

    That means you might skip some intro classes in college. So, while your buddies are struggling with Intro Algebra, you're diving into something more advanced, maybe even Quantum Mechanics (if that's your thing).

    1. Credit transfer: Many institutions accept AP scores, allowing students to bypass some beginner courses.
    2. Saving money: AP classes may get you credits, which means you’ll need fewer classes to graduate, saving you money.
    3. Scholarships: Showcasing AP courses on your transcript can make you a prime candidate for scholarships. And hey, who doesn't love free money?

    TuitionHero Tip

    There’s no catch, besides studying hard to ace your exams and paying the exam fee (which is not super high when you compare it to the cost of college credits).

    The history behind AP

    After World War II, the members of the Ford Foundation initiated several studies to explore how American academic competitiveness could be improved. One recommendation, which emerged from collaborative research between three elite prep schools and three elite colleges, was to create achievement exams that allowed bright students to enter college with advanced standing.

    Fast forward to today, and those achievement exams are known as Advanced Placement tests. Since then, the College Board, a large non-profit in New York City, has taken the reins, making AP a national sensation.

    • 1955: The year the College Board officially began overseeing the AP program.
    • 2006: Over 1 million students took AP exams.
    • $97: The cost of an AP exam in 2023. But hey, there are subsidies and financial aid options available!

    How do AP exams work?

    You've slogged through the course, and now it's test day. The exams kick off in May, stretching over ten school days. Here's the low-down:

    • Scoring: You'll get a score between 1 and 5.
      • 5 – You're a rockstar! Extremely qualified.
      • 4 – Solid choice! Well qualified.
      • 3 – You did good! Qualified.
      • 2 – Maybe, just maybe, possibly qualified.
      • 1 – Well, let's not go there.

    TuitionHero Tip

    Previously, you received penalties for wrong answers on the test, but this rule was removed in 2011. Now, you only rack up points for questions you get correct, so it’s in your best interest to guess, even if you don’t know the right answer.

    What's new in the AP world?

    The world of AP is always evolving, adapting to the needs of the students and the demands of the academic world. Here's what's shaking things up:

    The debut of AP African-American studies

    This one's a game-changer! In the 2022-2023 school year, the College Board went all out and launched a pilot AP African-American Studies course.

    It's the first new AP course since 2014. Currently, around 60 high schools are piloting this course.

    The rise and fall of AP courses

    Some AP courses have soared in popularity, while others have gently faded away. Remember when AP Computer Science AB or AP French Literature were all the rage?

    Well, as of 2009, they took a bow and exited the stage. However, the AP Italian Language and Culture course made a smashing comeback in 2011.

    Dos and don'ts of taking AP courses

    Now, if you're thinking of joining the AP gang, there are some clear do’s and don'ts to consider. Let's break it down in a neat table:


    • Take courses that interest you

    • Prepare for the exams

    • Seek help when needed


    • Overload yourself with APs

    • Neglect other extracurriculars

    • Assume all colleges recognize all APs

    Advantages and disadvantages of taking AP courses

    Taking Advanced Placement (AP) courses is bold, daring, and not for everyone. However, it's essential to weigh the pros against the cons before diving in.

    • Higher weighted GPA: AP courses often have a weighted grading scale, which means acing them can boost your GPA higher than a regular course. With AP courses, you can potentially go above a 4.0!
    • College credits: Score well on the exam, and bam! You can earn college credits before even setting foot on a college campus. Many colleges will accept AP courses for credit if you score above a 3 on the exam.
    • Impress college admissions: Show them you're not just another fish in the pond. Taking AP courses demonstrates initiative and a willingness to challenge oneself.
    • Skill development: Beyond the academic content, AP courses refine skills like critical thinking, time management, and perseverance.
    • Intense workload: These courses aren't called "advanced" just for kicks. They're demanding, and you'll feel the heat.
    • Stress: With great challenges come...well, a lot of stress.
    • Cost: Taking the AP exam isn't free. Each exam costs $97 on average. For some, the cost, even with subsidies, might be a deterrent, though the exam is much cheaper than the equivalent college credits, if your college ends up accepting them.
    • Not always recognized: Not every college or university might recognize or give credit for all AP courses. This may be a factor in which college you end up choosing.

    Why trust TuitionHero

    AP courses set you up for success, but college tuition can be overwhelming. That's where TuitionHero comes in. We offer private student loans, student loan refinancing, scholarships, FAFSA assistance, and credit card offers to support your financial needs. While you focus on acing your AP exams, let us handle the financial side of your college journey.

    Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

    AP (Advanced Placement) courses are designed to give high school students a taste of college-level academics, challenging them with more rigorous content and expectations. These courses not only prepare students academically for college but also help them develop essential skills like critical thinking, time management, and perseverance.

    By successfully completing AP courses and exams, students can earn college credits, potentially allowing them to skip introductory courses in college, thereby saving time and money.

    One of the key financial benefits of taking AP courses is the potential to earn college credits if you score well on the AP exams. This can translate into savings on college tuition, as you may need to take fewer courses to graduate. Additionally, showcasing AP courses on your transcript can enhance your eligibility for scholarships.

    Generally, any high school student who plans to take AP exams is eligible for advanced placement courses, given that the high school supports ap courses. This option is particularly beneficial for students planning their college credits and academic trajectories.

    Final thoughts

    Dive into APs if you're up for the challenge. Not only will you be mentally stimulated, but you'll also be setting up your future self for some sweet, sweet benefits. Remember, it's not about the grind; it's about the growth. So, are you ready to take the plunge?



    Brian Flaherty avatar

    Brian is a graduate of the University of Virginia where he earned a B.A. in Economics. After graduation, Brian spent four years working working at a wealth management firm advising high-net-worth investors and institutions. During his time there, he passed the rigorous Series 65 exam and rose to a high-level strategy position.


    Rachel Lauren avatar

    Rachel Lauren is the co-founder and COO of Debbie, a tech startup that offers an app to help people pay off their credit card debt for good through rewards and behavioral psychology. She was previously a venture capital investor at BDMI, as well as an equity research analyst at Credit Suisse.

    At TuitionHero, we're not just passionate about our work - we take immense pride in it. Our dedicated team of writers diligently follows strict editorial standards, ensuring that every piece of content we publish is accurate, current, and highly valuable. We don't just strive for quality; we aim for excellence.

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