Are AP Classes Worth It?

By: Kylie Radford

Now that we are approaching the end of the school year, students have begun class registration for next year. This includes decisions over which classes to take; specifically in regards to rigor, the debate over whether or not to take Advanced Placement (AP) classes. With both Honors and Wake Tech classes as options, the matter is further complicated. AP classes are believed to be very beneficial, but they often present many challenges. To aid in this difficult time, here are the pros and cons of AP classes.

AP classes are courses run through College Board, in which students can earn college credit in high school. Apex High School offers a variety of AP classes in many different subjects. There are about 40 AP classes in total, but Apex High School doesn’t offer all of these courses. In some cases, if a school doesn’t offer AP classes on-site, they may allow students to take online AP courses instead.

Because it is a college level course, AP classes are considered much more challenging than Honors classes. They are characterized by an increased workload and difficulty at a fast pace, and therefore require more time and effort. Because AP classes are quite rigorous, you should evaluate each course description to determine whether you are ready to tackle the curriculum. If you enjoy learning and challenging yourself, you’ll likely be successful in AP classes. You also need to be prepared for what an AP course involves; if you go into an AP course without preparation, they may be more harmful than helpful. 

A benefit to taking AP classes is that it can prepare students for college. AP courses enable students to learn advanced skills while earning college credit. AP History teacher, Mr. Oltmans says, “AP classes are excellent for anyone who wants to build skills that they will have to use in college.” AP classes give students practice to prepare for the rigor of college-level coursework. Because AP classes move at a similar pace to college courses, students can get a sense of the commitment, time management, and other skills they’ll need to achieve success at the next level. A 2015 College Board report found a positive correlation between students’ success in AP classes and their ability to graduate within four years once enrolled at a college or university. 

One primary reason students take AP classes is to boost their GPA. AP classes in WCPSS count as a 5.0 for an A and a 4.0 for a B (weighted), which is worth more than honors courses which count as a 4.5 for an A and a 3.5 for a B (weighted). This suggests that the AP class is only beneficial to your GPA if you succeed in the class. For this reason, people often take Honors courses instead, with the belief that they can maintain an A and get a 4.5 on the GPA scale. Performing poorly in AP courses can negatively affect a student’s overall GPA, doing more harm than good when it comes time to apply for college. A low grade on your transcript from an AP course may hurt you more in the long run than not taking an AP in that subject at all.

Another reason students take AP classes is to earn college credit and get a head start on attaining their college degree. At the end of each AP course, students have the chance to take the AP exam associated with the course they enrolled in. The test is scored on a 1-5 scale. If students get a three or higher, colleges will likely accept the credit. It is always a good idea to research colleges you are interested in to see their policies regarding the transfer of AP credits. Those who score well on AP exams can often skip introductory classes, allowing them to move more quickly into coursework for their major. By skipping these classes, students can reduce the total amount of time spent pursuing their degree. Eliminating a semester or more of college can save students a lot of money in tuition, while also allowing them to progress more rapidly into graduate school or a career. Essentially, taking AP classes is one of the best ways to test out of lower-level college courses. 

Apex High School also offers Wake Tech classes that count for college credit (and a 5.0 for GPA); however, those credits don’t always transfer. Generally, Wake Tech classes will transfer to in-state North Carolina colleges, but often will not transfer to out-of-state colleges. AP classes are also commonly worth more credit hours than Wake Tech classes. For example, a Wake Tech English course is worth 3 credit hours, but an AP English class such as AP Language and Composition (AP LANG) is worth 6 credit hours. Unfortunately, colleges don’t always accept the AP courses for college credit, so many students end up repeating the course in college anyway.

An additional benefit to taking AP classes is that it often makes you a more competitive applicant for college admissions. Colleges don’t just review students’ GPAs when deciding who to admit; they also examine the rigor of your courses. High school students who demonstrate they can excel in college-level classes tend to stand out to admissions departments at the nation’s top colleges. Students looking to attend prestigious or highly selective universities should take AP classes to boost their applications. The most impressive college applicants often take an array of challenging honors and AP courses on their transcripts. 

In recent years there has been an intense pressure on students to take a high number of AP classes to maximize their chances of getting into college: some students take between 4-9 AP classes in their highschool career. While this can be beneficial, it can also prove harmful. High-achieving high school students are often stressed; they have a lot to do between homework, extracurricular activities, and trying to get the sleep they need. Some schools have gone as far as to eliminate AP course offerings due to the negative impacts on students. The extra tests and homework from many AP courses, on top of an already demanding schedule, can be brutal. It is important to balance your workload when taking AP courses to avoid burnout, which can negatively impact a student’s mental health and academic success. 

It is a good idea to take AP classes in subjects you’re actually interested in, as you will likely excel in these courses. If you are truly interested in the subject, there’s a good teacher, and you’re surrounded by other motivated students, you’re probably going to have a good experience taking a more advanced class. 

AP classes are recommended to high performing students in specific subjects; therefore it is a good idea to take AP classes in subjects you believe you can do well in. If you barely made it through algebra, then AP Calculus is probably not right for you. You should examine which subjects you do well in to determine if an AP class is right for you.

It may be wise to speak with your counselor about available options in your academic career, as they often have much knowledge and experience on the topic. Counselor Mrs. Kurz said, “Both AP and Wake Tech classes are a great opportunity to try out a college class to see what it’s like, develop your way of thinking, and add rigor to your course load. Talking to your core subject teacher is a great way to figure out what your next course should be. Their input is important because they’ve seen you all semester and know your work habits and the way you think. That’s a great place to start, and then if you have more questions, you can talk to your counselor and Mr. Hayes (The Wake Tech coordinator).”

Finally, here’s some advice from AP Science teacher, Ms. Piper: “Think about why you’re taking the AP course. If you’re taking it to boost your GPA and think it’s just an honors class, rethink your decision. If you want to learn more about a topic, prepare for college level courses, and possibly get college credit, then take the AP class.” 

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