AP classes: Are they worth it?


According to The Wall Street Journal, in 2016, approximately 2.6 million American high school students took at least one of the 38 AP Exams, 20 of which are offered at DHS. AP classes are known to offer a number of benefits to students: exposure to college level courses, opportunities to study subjects in depth, an edge in the college admissions process, a stronger transcript, and hopefully, college credit. The College Board website states that nearly all higher education institutes in the United States, as well as colleges and universities in over 60 other countries, grant credit or advanced placement for AP Exam scores of 3 or higher, helping students save money or begin taking more advanced courses in their major. However, with the increase in students taking AP Exams, there have been numerous colleges offering less credit for high scores.

Dartmouth College stopped giving college credit for AP Scores in 2013 and now only uses the scores to place students in proper classes. Brown University has a similar policy, as well as certain departments at Columbia University. The faculty at Duke University’s Trinity College of Arts and Sciences will soon vote on whether or not to award credit for high AP scores. Currently, the university’s policy is that students can use AP credits to replace up to two college credits.

Part of the reasoning behind this is the belief that AP courses are not equivalent to a college class. The University of Pennsylvania found that students in specific departments, such as biology or chemistry, who skipped introductory courses due to AP credits fared worse in more advanced classes because of lack of preparation.

According to The Washington Post, more public and private high schools are now offering fewer AP classes for this reason, as well as concerns about the effects of the rigorous courses on student stress.

Although some colleges are reducing the number of AP credits given, 66% of American colleges and universities gave credit for AP Exam scores of three or higher in 2016. Twenty states require public universities to award credits for strong scores, according to The Wall Street Journal.

While Massachusetts is not among them, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Admissions Counselor Ashley O’Donnell said, “For almost all exams, we will accept a 3 or higher on the AP exam in place of that course at the university level. Depending on the number of credits coming in, APs may allow students more flexibility in their schedules in terms of taking classes they are interested in, or adding an additional major or a minor.”

DHS alumna Rumi Lazarova, a freshman at University of Massachusetts Amherst, is graduating early due to the AP credit she was given. “I got 30 credits from APs, and you need 120 to graduate. By the time I entered UMass, I was essentially done with my freshman year, and 95% of my Gen-Eds were done,” she said.

According to Guidance Counselor Leanne Soulard, most DHS students receive college credit for AP classes, the exception being those with lower scores or those attending elite universities. Whether or not a student should take an AP class, she believes should depend on the individual student, not college credit. “I think students should appropriately challenge themselves through rigorous coursework and, for some students, this means taking AP courses,” she said. “For others this means mixing in some honors level courses. I encourage students to consider their interests and abilities and to choose courses that they will enjoy.”

Even if a student is not granted AP credit, AP Chemistry Teacher Douglas Smith believes that an AP class can be a worthwhile experience. “Even though I think colleges are cutting back on how much credit they are giving for AP scores, it is a great measure for your likely success in college in a particular area, and you get to tackle that course in a setting where you have access to greater support,” he said. “In college, an introductory chemistry course is more sink-or-swim, while at the high school level, students have better access to instructors and the course is at a more reasonable pace.”

Senior Dominic Vaccari also found AP courses to be extremely valuable. “It is so much more involved. In a regular class, there aren’t many real world examples,” he said. “AP classes are full of ways you can apply yourself in the world.”

That is one of the many benefits of AP classes, besides potential college credit. They challenge students, offer them greater depth in a subject of interest, better prepare a student for the rigor of college classes, and improve a college application or a GPA. According to the DHS student handbook, a B+ in an AP class and an A+ in an honor class are both weighted as a 4.3.

For these reasons and more, junior Kailey Humason would still enroll in AP classes, regardless of college credit. “It’s a good way to challenge yourself,” she said. “If you take an AP class in what you want to study in college, it’s a good way to prepare yourself for the college level of the course.”