“How many AP classes are you taking?” Is a question commonly spoken and heard throughout the year in high schools across the country, and it’s not just the students asking. Parents, teachers, guidance counselors, and administrators are all involved in this topic. AP courses present students with a tremendous opportunity to experience the rigor and high expectations of a college course while in high school. The benefits are many; critical thinking, cooperative learning, the potential for college credits, time management, and let’s not forget the 5-point grading scale. However, there are pitfalls a student can experience if not careful.

First a little history, AP stands for Advanced Placement, which is delivered and driven by the College Board. These courses are college-level curriculum followed by an exam in May offered to high school students. High performance in an AP course can result in a higher GPA because of the 5-point scale and the possibility of earning college credit to be applied once accepted. In 2013 just under 4 million AP tests were given. Each year the College Board has shown positive growth in the number of students enrolling in AP courses and those signing up for the tests.

How does taking an AP course(s) relate to college? Many schools will use the student’s performance in their AP courses as an indicator of potential success at the postsecondary level. When evaluating a student’s transcript, the colleges will ask, “did they take advantage of the curriculum offered?” Meaning did you enroll in the courses you’re interested in majoring in during high school? For example, a student interested in studying medicine should strongly consider taking the highest science courses they have access to during high school.  Also, earning an A in an AP course gives the students five points towards their overall GPA instead of the traditional four points, thus boosting the overall GPA.

Now, back to my original question, how do you decide to take an AP instead of a college prep course to avoid pitfalls? Always remember your strengths and weaknesses; if you are honest with yourself you will select the best fit. If you are an excellent student in English, wonderful push hard in those areas. Please do not enroll in an AP course because your friends are taking it, instead create a course schedule that best fits your goals, not someone else. Consider the time commitment and your extracurricular activities schedule. Balance is an important component to remember and instrumental to your sanity. Yes, colleges are looking to see if a student took and was successful in an AP course, however that means earning a grade of B or higher, otherwise you should have taken a different level.

There is a large amount of pressure on high school students these days. AP is one of the biggest stressors around, but it does not have to be. Remember balance is key, go with your strengths and last a most important if you decide not to take a single AP course and earn high grades throughout high school you will have numerous postsecondary options.