What do AP classes even do?


Julia Maushardt, Writer

As we approach the final stretch of the 2019 school year, rising juniors, seniors, and maybe even sophomores are starting to consider which Advanced Placement (AP) courses to take next fall. Such classes are no joke; high school students who have taken any AP test know how arduous the journey can be. Yet the purposes of AP classes are sometimes unclear. We’ve heard they might provide a certain amount of credit at certain colleges for certain courses, but what do they really do?

AP courses are offered at more than half of America’s high schools. One reason is that the rigorous College Board curriculums set a solid foundation of critical thinking skills necessary for both college and adult life. AP classes require students not to memorize names, dates, and facts, but understand how to interpret and apply what they’ve learned throughout the year. For example, while Spanish students could memorize thousands of verb conjugations, an inability to use such vocabulary in the context of a cultural conversation will earn nothing more than a 2 on the exam. For students in AP U.S. History, the fact that the Seneca Falls Convention occurred in 1848 is useless; rather, they must understand its significance to overall feminism. Even AP artists must learn how apply technical and visual elements to their original pieces in order to demonstrate a knowledge of creative concepts.

The most popular reason reason so many students load their schedules with AP classes is the prospect of college credit. Among most state universities (including the UCs), students can “test out” of certain freshman courses with a 3 or higher on the AP exam. For example, a student with a 4 on the Calculus BC test would enter college having already earned credit units in that curriculum, and could thus move onto higher levels or take a different subject altogether. More competitive colleges, such as Dartmouth and Amherst, only see a score of 4 or 5 as qualified. Such schools usually don’t give students these credits towards graduation, but will allow them to take harder classes their freshman year. For example, a student who received a 5 in AP Microeconomics could take an advanced economics class their first year, but would not receive credit for having taken microeconomics itself. A third system of AP credit combines a mixture of both policies, where some departments may accept AP credits and others do not. According to an article on PrepScholar.com, Harvard allows students to choose whether or not they use their scores to graduate in three years or test out of introductory courses and use all four years to explore new and more challenging subjects. Before enrolling in an AP class, students should note the policies of their top schools and decide whether their goal is to test out of core classes (such as math, reading, and biology) or to demonstrate academic strengths in a specific field (such as the humanities).

Some high schools such as Branson and Marin Academy have actually dropped their AP programs to allow room for more subject diversity. This allows teachers to create their own curriculums rather than following the strict College Board standards, and allows students to explore more subjects of interest. However, Ally Seba, a Marin Academy sophomore, says the lack of AP courses can actually cause more stress. “Because the [honors class] label is so vague, I don’t know how it will look on my transcript when I apply for colleges,” she explains. “I find myself sometimes feeling like I need to perform even better than I would have to in an AP for it to count as much.”

While the benefits of Advanced Placement might seem too good to be true, they come at a high cost. AP classes, especially when taken in multiples, can overload and wear down students quickly. It’s important to know before taking such courses where one’s strengths and weaknesses lie. Colleges want to see students who challenge themselves, but who also can balance such rigorous work. Taking four AP courses looks good, but getting in C in every one does not.

Because not all high schools offer them, colleges don’t expect all applicants to load their transcripts with AP courses. However, at a school like Marin Catholic with a broad range of Advanced Placement classes, it looks best to pursue at least one or two of them. Bella De Quattro, a Marin Catholic junior, says she doesn’t regret any of her four AP classes. “If I hadn’t taken AP Lang, I don’t think I would have found…a genuine love of writing. And AP Chem is incredibly hard, but very rewarding in its understanding of our natural world,” she explains. Marin Catholic’s broad range of courses allows for all students to hopefully experience this sense of fascination at one point or another. “All AP classes are different,” Bella declares. “They’re so diverse.”



Edwards, Halle. “How Does AP Credit Work at Colleges?” PrepScholar.com. 4 November 2018. Online. 1 April 2019. https://blog.prepscholar.com/how-does-ap-credit-work-at-colleges