Taking AP Courses in High School – Are They Worth the Fuss?

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My wife and I have a goal for all 3 of our children to graduate from a 4-year college with $0 in debt.

This means no student loan debt for our kids … and no debt for my wife and I.

We both managed to get out of college with almost no debt … partially because of hustling and working our way through college. But mostly because of awesome parents footing most of the bill.

Our goal is to do the same for our kiddos.

The approach that we are planning to take, is to attack the cost of college from multiple fronts.

One of the tools we plan to leverage is having our kids take AP Courses in high school.

What are the Benefits of Taking AP Classes in High School?

Taking AP Courses in High School

High school sure has come a long way from what I can remember.

I was shocked (and impressed) when I recently went to a high school open house with my rising freshman late last spring. I left truly amazed at how his future high school was more like a mini-college than what I remembered almost 30 years ago!

Semesters at his school are setup where kids only take 4 classes during the fall … similar to how college works. Then in the winter/spring they take 4 new classes.

The length of a class is much longer … again similar to college.

Another takeaway from the open house was the number of AP courses offered at the school.

My son’s high school offers 8 different AP Courses … which include – World History, Calculus, Government, and Statistics just to name a few.

These high school courses are setup where the student takes the Pre-AP version of the course during the fall semester. Then they transition to the actual AP course during the winter/spring semester.

Students in these courses then take the AP Exam (for the specific course) around the middle of May.

Our High School Freshman

Our oldest son (who will turn 15 soon) is a freshman in high school and is currently enrolled in Pre-AP World History (fall semester 2018).

Freshman at his school are limited to taking just 1 AP course their first year, due to a very heavy workload. He had 2 options for AP courses – World History or Earth Science.

He went with World History since that is where he got his teacher recommendation from in the 8th grade.

Once the winter/spring semester begins, he will then be in the AP World History portion of the course.

Then sometime in mid-May of next year (2019), he will take the AP World History exam.

The important (and really cool thing) about this AP Exam, is that it has the potential to earn him future college credit.

Think about that for a minute. As a freshman in high school, our son can earn college credit!

AP Exam Scores and College Credit

Earning college credit for taking a single exam is awesome. But this is where things can get a little tricky.

Taking (and passing) AP Exams has the “potential” of earning future college credit.

There are many factors that go into earning college credit for these courses and exams.

For example, each University and/or College has it’s own criteria set for AP Scores. Some don’t even acknowledge these exams for college credit … regardless of your score.

A quick search on the CollegeBoard website tells me that Harvard doesn’t accept World History AP scores.

I highly doubt my son’s first choice of college is Harvard … so we are probably safe.

One local state college in our area awards 3 credit hours for AP World History if the student gets a 4 or 5 on the exam. But there is no equivalent course it transfers into … just the credit hours.

Another state college down the road awards 3 credit hours for the same class if the student gets a 3, 4, or 5 on the AP Exam. And it transfers into the equivalent HIST 1000 offered to college students.

A third state college I just looked up awards 6 total credit hours and credit for 2 different classes for a score of 4 or 5 in World History.

As you can see … earning college credit for an AP Exam depends a lot on – the score you get and the college you or your child plans to attend.

Are AP Courses and Exams Worth all the Fuss?

It is difficult knowing which college our son will want to attend in 4 years … a lot can change.

Heck … he may decide to get a trade job and not go to college at all.

Chances are likely he will probably go to a state school where we live. But there are still a ton of options for state schools near us.

With all of this uncertainty, my wife and I were recently having a conversation about the workload of his AP World History class.

The amount of work is truly insane … even compared to taking an actual college course. Honestly, I think it is way more work than most college classes.

So is all this time, stress, and headache worth it?

Even if he scores a 4 or 5 on the exam … there is a chance he would never even get credit for it.

I don’t have all the answers yet and likely won’t for some time. So I broke it down into a pros and cons list of taking AP courses in high school for college credit.

Disadvantages of Taking AP Courses in High School

There are plenty of disadvantages of taking AP courses in high school.

  • AP Courses Have a Crazy Workload – The amount of work has been insane for a high school freshman. My wife and I feel this AP World History course is more demanding than most college courses we have taken.
  • Stress – At this point I’m not sure the extra stress for a 9th grader is worth it. I get being prepared for college but at what cost? And did I mention that my wife and I (mostly my wife) have been stressed out with all this?
  • Not Much Free Time – All this extra work has left little time just to be a kid. Add in homework from 3 other classes and participating in sports have made it hard for our son to do much else. Most school nights he is in bed by 8:00 PM from being totally exhausted.
  • No Guarantee – Even if you get an awesome score (like a 5) on the AP Exam … there is no guarantee the college you eventually attend will accept that class and give you credit. For example, as we mentioned earlier … Harvard does not show that it accepts AP World History for a credit.

Advantages of Taking AP Courses in High School

There are also plenty of awesome advantages of taking AP Courses in High School.

  • Tuition Savings – A quick back of the envelope calculation tells me our son could save between $800 to $1,000 by getting a 3 or higher on the AP World History exam. That is close to what 3 credit hours cost at the local state university near us.
  • Combine with Other College Hacks – Not only is our son taking an AP course in high school his freshman year … but the plan is to start dual enrollment courses when he is a junior. A student has the potential to earn college credit in combination from hacks like dual enrollment and CLEP testing. This can be a very powerful tool in paying for college.
  • Take Exams without the Class – While I’m not sure our son will do this … AP Exams can be taken separately without the class. That sounds a bit challenging but it is possible to take an AP Exam and earn college credit … without going through the headache and fuss of taking the class.

Conclusion

At this point, our son has only been in his World History class for just over 2 months.

The workload, pop quizzes, and tests have been truly crazy.

Homework gets assigned just like it would for a college student. The big difference I see is that most of the time a student has a day between college classes to get the work done. In this high school AP class … most homework is due the following day.

I really shouldn’t complain too much … our son has figured out how to manage this workload. He is a good student … but not a genius by any means.

He is pulling down a low ‘A’ grade at this point in the class. Most of that is because he learned the system … which is good and bad.

Another benefit is if he ends up with an ‘A’ grade … it will count on his GPA as 5.0 on a 4.0 scale.

So at this point, my wife and I are a bit undecided still on him taking these AP Courses in high school.

They have the potential for significant financial benefit. This course will certainly prepare our son for a college workload. And the course should help him with a weighted GPA.

But are we also doing him harm by not letting him still be a kid? Are we causing him too much stress and anxiety with all this work?

I just don’t know at this point?

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Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 8 comments
FullTimeFinance - October 12, 2018

Honestly I completed quite a few ap classes in high school. My college gave no credit whatsoever. Conversely my wife who went to a similar caliber University attended classes at a local university part time as a high schooler. She made out much better in terms of credit. I think attending part time real college classes is a better path forward.

Reply
    John - October 12, 2018

    Great feedback! We are planning to have our son start dual enrollment classes his Junior/Senior years which I think will actually earn him more college credits.

    Reply
Abigail - October 15, 2018

I took AP courses in high school and graduated with 25 credits. Quarters at my school were only 15 credits, so I started with a quarter-and-a-half advantage. I don’t remember the workload as being quite as insane as you remember, though. Harder than other classes, but not as bad as college courses.

A different option you might want to look into is concurrent enrollment. This is where kids take college courses and get credit for both high school and college. If any colleges near you offer it, it’s definitely worth looking into. That way, your son would be getting credit for specific classes, which you said was a concern of yours.

Reply
    John - October 17, 2018

    Thanks for the feedback! We are looking at starting dual enrollment his Junior and Senior years, so that is hopefully part of our overall plan to help pay for part of his college tuition.

    There is a community college across town where students from his highschool can take these classes. And if he eventually goes to a public (in-state) college, his community college classes would automatically transfer in, so this has huge potential cost savings.

    Reply
Brandon - October 19, 2018

In my personal experience, AP classes are more difficult than the college class equivalent in terms of workload. You mentioned duel enrollment and I think that is truly the best way to get college credit the easiest while in high school. As someone who graduated from college this past year, my biggest regret is not taking the intro classes and basic degree requirements at a community college where tuition can be half as much as a prestigious university.

Reply
    John - October 25, 2018

    That is exactly what my wife and I are thinking too. I can’t say every college class I had would have been easier … but I know of several college courses I took that were a TON easier and less work than this AP World History class.

    The goal is for him to start dual enrollment his Junior year and carry that into his Senior year. Than possibly stay at the Community College until he finishes up his basic degree requirements.

    Reply
asher - October 22, 2018

My kids school offered 26 AP courses. They each took 12 courses. And one kid also took an AP test without taking the class and got a 5 (one of the English ones). I think it is all about keeping your options open….
They were all able to graduate college a semester early, and take lighter loads when it made sense (like the semester he worked 15 hours/week at NASA). One kid was able to take a semester of grad school as an undergrad and saved $24K in tuition. Sometimes they chose to repeat an AP class in college (like taking Physics or Calculus over in an engineering major), but it helped them get an A in college.
My kids preferred the AP classes because they were in classes with the smarter kids (we had no honors classes), and the level of discussion and atmosphere was where they preferred to be – despite the extra work.
One last thing – AP World history is by far the hardest AP class (AP Chemistry is probably 2nd) – so don’t let this one class deter him from trying other AP classes.
Oh yeah, and colleges prefer to see ‘rigor’ in high school – so that should be in the Pro column.
Good luck!

Reply
    John - October 25, 2018

    Wow! 26 AP Courses, that is crazy. Sounds like your kids had a great experience with taking the AP Courses. I appreciate the feedback!

    We’ve been asking around to other parents at his school and heard the exact same thing – AP World History is one of the hardest. Not sure why they offer that one to Freshman at his school but oh well. He is getting a ‘B’ in the class so far, so I can’t complain. We also heard Chemistry is hard but there is one teacher that is a bit easier than the other at his school. Not sure if that is a good thing because we want him to be prepared to take the AP Exam if he does take AP Chemistry.

    Reply

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