How Advanced Placement Classes Affect Your College Options

Test Prep & Grades
November 26, 2019
During Their High School Career, Students Have Many Opportunities To Take More Difficult, Advanced Classes...

Advanced Placement, or AP, is one of these class types. In advanced placement, students are challenged with an in-depth curriculum that requires them to dedicate more time and effort to their studies.

Advanced placement classes can prepare you for the rigors of collegiate academics, provide you with college credits, boost your GPA, and help you hone your skills. Having these advanced classes on your transcript will show college admission officers that you’re serious about your education.

So, if you’re interested in impressing colleges with your application, consider adding some AP classes to your schedule. More difficult classes will benefit you in so many ways, so take advantage of the challenge while you can.


What Are Advanced Placement Classes?

Advanced Placement is a non-mandatory type of class that’s offered at most high schools. This program by College Board offers classes that are extremely advanced and require more time and dedication than other general classes. AP classes require more homework, reading, and your overall score is determined by the standardized AP exams at the end of each year.

Most students can begin taking AP classes during their junior year of high school, but some exceptions have been made in the past; a student’s eligibility simply depends on their skill level.

AP courses are specifically designed to prepare a student for college-level courses, and AP courses can even substitute for some general credits you may have to complete in your freshman year of college. Students can choose any of the 38 AP courses that cover 22 subject areas.

In order to sign up for an AP class, you must register for it along with your other high school classes. At the end of every year the AP exams take place, in which students can score anywhere from one to five, one being extremely poor and five being excellent. In order for the AP course to count for college credit, a student must score anywhere from a three to a five. Any score less than three makes it no longer beneficial for your college application, and the course ultimately becomes obsolete.

Of course, taking an AP class isn’t required in order to take the AP exam. This rule can be especially helpful for homeschooled students. If you feel that you’ve performed exceptionally well in an area of study, you may take the AP exam along with other students at your local high school.

While AP classes are free, the AP exam is $94. While this can be quite an investment for high school students, if you score high enough this could replace a much more costly class once you’re accepted to college. Ultimately, it depends on your performance whether or not AP classes will be worth it for you.

How Advanced Placement Classes Benefit You

One of the main things on a college application that will impress college admission officers is either a high score on an AP exam, or simply having an AP course listed under academic activity.

Having multiple AP classes on your transcript along with excellent scores is impressive because AP classes are extremely difficult. The subject matter is in-depth, and students must learn at a faster rate than they do in general classes. AP courses require more homework, time, and dedication than any other class, and because of this, students who excel in AP classes learn how to balance their academic life early.

Not only do AP courses impress colleges, but they can also boost your GPA, help you hone your skills, and give you a chance to earn invaluable college credit.


Having AP classes on your high school record will impress college admission officers because it shows your ability to challenge yourself and balance difficult classes with other school activities.

Because of this, you may think that your score will affect whether or not you’ll get accepted into college, however, your score usually has little to do with that decision. For example, if you take an AP class during your senior year, scores from your AP exam won’t become available until long after college admission decisions have been made. Fortunately, when colleges see AP classes on your transcripts and school reports, that’s often enough for them to know that you’re serious about your education.


AP courses have the power to drastically raise your GPA. If you’re looking for an opportunity to raise your GPA in your final years of high school, taking a couple of AP classes may be a great option.

AP classes are graded on a weighted GPA scale, meaning that the better you perform in class, the greater boost your GPA will receive. Unweighted GPA scales stop at 4.0. Weighted GPA scales, on the other hand, are bumped up a whole point, and students can have a GPA of up to 5.0. If a student gets a three, four, or five on the AP exam, they could boost their GPA past a 4.0, which will look fantastic on college applications.


Since College Board offers so many different AP courses, students have the ability to find out what subjects they’re particularly skilled in and then refine those skills. Taking an AP course can also help you hone your skills in an area similar to what you’re planning on studying in college.

Along with the AP curriculum, you’ll have opportunities to practice writing better papers and conducting better research, all in preparation for the kind of work you’ll be doing in college. This kind of experience will help college admission officers know that you’re well-prepared for a rigorous academic environment.


In addition to providing you with college-level experience, AP courses can help you earn college credit, allowing you to test out of some first-year classes.

Receiving college credit while you’re in high school will come in handy when it’s time to register for your first-year classes. Let’s say that you scored a four on your AP English exam. In most cases, this means that your excellent performance in your AP English course will substitute for a required entry-level English course, giving you a head start and saving you money in the long run.

Of course, in order to receive college credit for your AP courses, you must score between a three and a five on your AP exam. However, some colleges are more strict than others. Northwestern University, for example, only accepts a three for one AP course, AP Chemistry. Every other exam must have a four or five in order to count as college credit. Ultimately, the score you need for college credit will depend on what schools you’re applying to.

What About Other Advanced Classes?

If you’re not interested in receiving college credit or you don’t have the time to dedicate to AP classes, you have other options for taking advanced courses. While these other options don’t always include college credit opportunities, they still help students challenge themselves at an advanced level and showcase their skills to colleges.


Most high schools offer honors classes, in which students are still challenged and workloads are still heavy, but at a pace more do-able for busier students. In order to register for an honors course, your guidance counselor must approve your request. You must demonstrate strong grades and performance in classwork prior to beginning honors classes. Honors teachers go more in-depth than traditional classes, operate at a faster pace, and the curriculum demands more research and greater amounts of reading and writing.

While honors courses don’t offer college credit, they still boost students' GPAs and it looks great on college applications. It’s important to remember that while honors courses are considered a “step down” from AP classes, that doesn’t mean that honors courses are easier. A common mistake students make is registering for too many honors courses because they assume it will be the equivalent of one or two AP courses.

Make sure that you choose your honors courses wisely. You must be able to balance challenging academic courses and your other school activities like sports and extracurriculars. If colleges see that you took a large amount of honors courses but struggled to balance other areas of your life, it may do more harm than good.


The International Baccalaureate program, or IB as its most commonly known, is an academic program that allows high school students to take college courses and then graduate with what’s known as an IB diploma. The IB diploma is still a high school diploma, but it shows that the student took rigorous college classes on the level of many college programs.

In order to participate in the program, you must be attending a IB-approved high school and meet the numerous requirements that program has set in place.

IB and AP are commonly compared because they have so many similarities. Both programs allow you to earn college credit through the end-of-year exam, and both challenge students with rigorous academics. The main difference between the two is the fact that the IB program was built around the idea of an internationally recognized diploma, and AP was founded on earning college credit.

The overall structure of IB classes are different, too. IB classes typically involve more independent research on the student’s part. Rather than a heavy amount of homework like AP classes, students in the IB program are taught to be self-starters and take control of their own projects through essays, research, and group study.

Ultimately, earning an IB diploma is different than simply graduating with a traditional high school diploma. The IB program has so many requirements like a specific amount of classes in certain subjects, required extracurricular activities, and extra research papers on topics like critical thinking and reasoning. Because of these requirements, earning an IB diploma can be extremely beneficial.

Due to how rare the program is, it will stand out on your college application, showing dedication to academic rigor and independent research. Plus, if you’re interested in studying abroad or going to an overseas college, the IB diploma will often be a requirement thanks to its international recognition.

Warning: What To Consider Before Committing To AP Classes

While AP classes provide amazing opportunities for students to learn at a faster pace and earn college credit, they also carry some negative weight that you may want to consider before committing.

AP courses are incredibly challenging, and they’re often the heaviest workload that high schools offer in their classes. With this added workload, your other grades may begin to suffer due to lost time and exhaustion. If you’re not sure how well you’ll be able to balance AP courses with the other challenging factors of high school, you may want to consider taking only one AP class.

The cost of each AP exam will build up over time. If you want to take three or four AP courses, that means three or four exams, or multiple payments of nearly $100. The high cost of the AP exam adds pressure to students; most of them want to make sure they receive a high grade in order to have an equally high return on their investment.

Trying to spread that pressure out over three of four exams in difficult for many students, and may have hurt you more than help you. Instead of lessening pressure, the financial investment may make it seem exceedingly higher.

Finally, some colleges don’t take AP classes into consideration when reviewing your application. Before you register for AP courses, make sure that the colleges you’re interested in look highly onAP scores on college applications.

Your Options

High school students have to make so many important decisions. Juniors and seniors especially have so many parts of high school to juggle, especially if they’re interested in getting accepted to a great college.

If you want to impress college admission officers, a great way to do so is by participating in rigorous academic programs like Advanced Placement, Honors, and International Baccalaureate. Not only do these courses impress colleges, but they give you opportunities to earn college credit, study your favorite subjects on a more in-depth level, and prepare yourself for the overall academic rigor of college.

Of course, if you’re unsure about whether or not you’ll be able to balance advanced courses with the rest of your schedule, reach out to one of WeAdmit's professional counselors. We’d love to help you explore your options and find a way for you to earn college credit without sacrificing other important areas of your high school career. Advanced courses are too great an opportunity to pass up, but only if they truly benefit your overall academic career.

Reach Out Today And See If You Can Take Advantage Of Them!



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