Preparing for College

More College Knowledge Q&As

Question: My 9th-grade daughter came home and told me about a kind of high school course called "AP."  What are they?

Answer: AP is short for "Advanced Placement."  As the name implies, students who successfully pass AP courses can get a jump on college.  AP courses can save you time and money.  They can also give you an edge in the applicant pools of highly selective colleges and universities.  To see some kinds of courses available, search the Web for "Advanced Placement Testing Program."


The College Board administers the AP program.  Approved high schools get to teach AP courses because the academic quality of their college preparatory or honors curricula is high.  Some high schools offer only a few APs; others offer a dozen or more.

AP courses are college-level courses taught with college textbooks and exams.  They can give you college credit or advanced standing when you begin college.  There is an end-of-course AP final on which you have to score a 3, 4, or 5 to get college credit.  Some colleges will recognize a grade of 3 for credit.  Most, though, require a 4 or 5.

AP college credit is a good buy.  Currently, an AP exam fee is $86.  You'll find that price hard to beat when looking for a deal on college credit.

Another aspect provided by AP courses is a preview of college-level work.  If you have any doubts about doing well in college, an AP course can confirm them or put your mind at ease.  They're much work and require extensive reading, writing, problem sets, and--for the science courses--lab time.  They'll give you a real feeling of accomplishment, though, when you're done.

A reasonable schedule might be to take one AP in the sophomore year, two in the junior year, and two or three in the senior year.  Most students aspiring to the best colleges and universities graduate with five or more AP courses on their transcripts.  Remember: o college admission people, a B in an AP course is worth more than an A in a lesser course.

Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.