Sunday, October 20, 2013

Getting the Most Bang for Your Buck in AP Classes

By Sean Scarpiello

With the cost of college being so high today, many students are enrolling in Advanced Placement (AP) classes during high school in hopes of saving money in college. When taking an AP class, students are essentially taking a college level class. Then, at the end of each AP class, students can take a test to determine if they can receive full college credit for the course. If a students do well enough on their AP test, skipping a class can allow them to take other classes to work towards a double major, or even shorten their college experience down to three years, saving them money altogether. Yet, while there are many financial benefits to this option, there also seem to be a few problems with this arrangement.

Many different colleges have different opinions on AP classes. Some schools have very strict policies on them, while others are very relaxed. Therefore, it is very important for students to look into these college policies when choosing a school. For example, at my college, if a student takes AP Biology 1 and 2 in high school and receives a 4 on the AP test, they can skip General Biology I in college. If a student scores a 5 on the AP test, they can skip both General Biology I and II. Other colleges have different polices and will allow students to skip classes with lower scores on the AP tests. And while this sounds like a great idea, there are even more specifics students should look into when choosing a school, AP classes, or even a graduate programs. Because while colleges have their own opinions on AP coursework, so do many other institutions.

Referring back to my example, if a student scores a 5 on the AP test, they can skip the two general biology classes and jump right into upper level biology classes. But does a student really want to do that? Many graduate and doctorate programs in the sciences require that students take the general science courses at a four-year college. Therefore, it would be a shame if a student chose to bypass these general biology courses early in their education, and then had to retake these courses later to get into a graduate degree program. Further, while AP courses technically are the equivalent of a college level class, they are not equal in a few ways. The biggest way in which they differ is that AP classes lack the lab component of many science classes, which, for science majors, is very important. A student who tests out of general science course with a lab may struggle through the lab components of their upper level classes. This is because they enter higher level courses without the ability to properly write abstracts, read scientific articles, and use proper lab techniques which are the fundamentals taught in first year science courses.

Even when taking non-science courses in college, high school classes such as AP Statistics, AP History, or AP English simply lack the college course layout. Sitting through a college class is much different than those in high school. College classes are generally shorter, require much more independent work outside of class, and students have much less one on one contact with their college professors than they do with their high school teachers. Therefore, I feel as if AP classes work well as a jumping off point for students when they get to college. This is because students learn all of the material of a college level class in high school, but when they take the same class in college, they can focus on the course’s structural differences and get used to what it takes to succeed in a real college class.

Another option that works well for students planning on taking AP classes for college credit is to take AP classes in subjects you do not want to major in during college. While it is still great for students to take AP classes in fields their interested in, AP credit works best for the students who can avoid certain types of classes altogether in college. A great example of this would be a political science or business major who took an AP science course in high school. Most colleges require just a few science distribution courses, so if the student can bypass courses they need to take for distribution through the use of AP credit, they have an upper hand. Plus, this political science or business major, who may never use this science again or in their career, can completely avoid having to take the difficult science course with expensive textbooks and long labs. With this option, they can completely cut their college experience short a year by finishing distribution and general education classes before they even arrive at college. Otherwise, these students can cut out these general requirements and pick up a double major or take classes they can greater benefit from during their four years at college.

Overall, while AP courses are fantastic, it is important to approach them strategically. By doing this, students can take the AP classes will most benefit them financially in college by allowing them to cut college short and save on tuition or for focusing on more important classes in their major. In fact, if high schools increased the numbers of AP courses offered, students can save a lot of money not just in tuition, but also textbooks, lab fees, and more. In all, AP classes are great for education as they provide it at a lower cost for many students across the United States.


Anonymous said...

An interesting read that makes some great points. I definitely agree that there is great merit in taking AP (or IB) classes as preparation for college, however in this day and age the reward reaped from those courses is often less beneficial than expected. From personal experience, taking AP and IB courses throughout high school definitely prepared me extensively for the rigor of college classes, however last year I was somewhat shocked to find that college classes are indeed much harder than AP classes, and cover significantly more material. My school does accept my IB credit, but it only counts as elective credit, it does me no good in helping to complete my major. Lewis & Clark also allows students to bypass some intro classes if their AP/IB scores were high enough, but only if students received the best possible score on their test. I, personally, did not skip any intro classes. I have friends that did, and later regretted this choice as they felt they did not have as strong of a background in the subject as students who took an entire semester of the intro class. It's also good to note that when looking at transcripts colleges look to see students challenging themselves by taking the most advanced classes their high schools offered, and those classes are generally AP and IB classes. I'm glad I took AP/IB classes all throughout high school, as I know it helped prepare me for college, however I think that in our modern day education system often over-sells the benefits of taking them.

That being said, I'm definitely very happy to be done with high school.

Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

There is a related article about AP classes on the Salt Lake Tribune:

"However, we’ve found that students who enter BYU with up to 40 AP credits already on their transcript don’t graduate significantly faster. A few years ago the state of Utah discovered that students who started college with an associate degree and a New Century scholarship also did not graduate sooner. Why not? Think about it."