Parents often ask me about the importance of taking Advanced Placement courses and the end-of-course AP exams. My best answer is that “it depends” . . . 

How many Advanced Placement courses?

vanderbilt engineering and music programsWhen parents ask me about how many advanced placement courses their teen should take, they are really asking me how many courses their teen should take to “look good” to colleges. Advanced placement courses are about taking a rigorous course load in high school to signal that a student would be academically successful in college. 

Rather than “looking good” to colleges, I believe that students should take the level of courses that are most appropriate for them personally and be true to what their interests are. If a college admits you only because of AP courses you took, it doesn’t say much for how you will fit or thrive at that college.

A reasonable number of AP courses to take is relative to the number of AP courses that your high school offers. Colleges understand that the number of AP courses available vary by high school. If a school offers no AP courses, then students aren’t expected to have AP courses on their transcript. On the other hand, if a high school has a lot of AP courses available, then students should make an effort to take a few AP courses. For example, if a high school offers 10 AP courses and students can take AP courses starting in junior year, then it’s reasonable to have about 3 to 5 AP courses on your transcript. Those AP courses should be in appropriate areas of academic strength for the student . . . if a student is weak in math, it doesn’t make sense to take the AP Calculus courses just for the sake of “looking good” to colleges.

How important is it to take the AP Exam?

In most cases, the AP Exam is not used in college admissions. The exams that students take for college admissions are either the SAT or the ACT. Scores on the AP Exam are most often used to determine the level of courses taken in college. Every college sets its own policies to grant credit for AP level course. For example, at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, a non-engineering student who scores a 4 or 5 on the AP Statistics exam could get 3 credit hours for the Math 1010: Probability and Statistical Inference course. Also, the credit for AP exam scores may not apply towards a major in that same subject area. Complicated, huh?

I have heard many college students say that they regret using their AP credit because they could have benefitted from having that first level course at the college level. 

Where I find the AP exam helpful to take is in preparation for an SAT Subject Test. The AP courses are mostly aligned with SAT Subject Tests. If a student, for example, is taking AP US History (APUSH) and plans to take the SAT Subject Test in American History, then it could be good preparation to take the AP US History exam in May and the SAT Subject Test in American History in June!

When are the 2018 AP exams scheduled?

Here’s a schedule of when the AP exams are scheduled in 2018. When you download the printable calendar, you can see the SAT Subject Test dates as well.

2018 AP Exam Schedule Week 1

Week 1Monday - May 7Tuesday - May 8Wednesday - May 9Thursday - May 10Friday - May 11
Spanish Literature and Culture
Spanish Language and Culture
English Literature and CompositionUnited States Government and PoliticsGerman Language and Culture
United States History
AfternoonPsychologyArt History
Physics 1: Algebra-Based
Japanese Language and Culture
Physics 2: Algebra-Based
Chinese Language and Culture
Environmental Science
Computer Science Principles
Week 2Monday - May 14Tuesday - May 15Wednesday - May 16Thursday - May 17Friday - May 18
Music Theory
Calculus AB
Calculus BC
English Language and CompositionComparative Government and Politics
World History
Human Geography
AfternoonPhysics C: Mechanics
Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism
French Language and Culture
Computer Science A
Italian Language and Culture
StatisticsEuropean History

Good luck!

How is your teen preparing for AP exams?

Author: Pamela E

Dr. Pamela has helped thousands of teens attend the college of their choice. She brings her 25 years experience in education to assist families, schools, and employers with college selection, admissions, financial aid, and more. Dr. Pamela holds a PhD from Stanford School of Education, and an MBA from Dartmouth.

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