Teenage girl (15-17) sitting test in classroom portrait


Advanced placement (AP) classes enable high school students to take courses that are eligible for college credit. Students who score high on the AP exam, which occurs once a year, can get a head start on their undergraduate career—and their parents don’t have to pay college tuition rates for AP credits.

    But AP classes aren’t for everyone. “Don’t let anyone talk you into an AP course unless it fits in with your abilities and educational goals,” says John Carpenter, an independent educational consultant at

askjohnaboutcollege.com. “If the class is so demanding that it’s going to make you miserable or have an extremely negative impact on your grade-point average, it might not be worth it. High school is hard enough—why make it worse?”

    On the other hand, “If you’re highly motivated and are thinking about a top-tier, highly selective college, the benefits outweigh the risks,” he says. “APs can give your college application a boost, telling admissions officers that this kid can handle college-level curricula. Colleges want to see that applicants have taken the most challenging courses available.”

    Dual-credit or advanced college credit (ACC) programs, offered locally by Saint Louis University, University of Missouri-St. Louis and Missouri Baptist College, are an alternative to AP courses. “The greatest advantage of ACC courses is that the student’s performance during the entire semester determines whether or not they get college credit for their work,” says Gayle Rogan, Ph.D., director of Saint Louis University’s 1818 Advanced College Credit Program. “With AP courses, you may do well in class, but your score on that one-day exam is often the only thing that matters. That’s a distinct disadvantage for students who ace the class, but don’t test well.”

    SLU’s nationally recognized ACC program has been in existence for more than 50 years, Rogan notes. “Our university departmental liaisons review the academic credentials, teaching experience and course syllabus submitted by the high school instructor, who must have a master’s degree or higher,” she explains. “Graded course credit from ACC classes is transferrable to Saint Louis University and other colleges and universities throughout the country—we have a list of schools on our website.”

    In some cases neither AP nor ACC classes are beneficial, Rogan notes. “Some colleges won’t even look at ACC or AP credits, taking the stance that if it isn’t taught in a college classroom by a college professor, it doesn’t count,” she acknowledges. “Whether you’re taking AP or ACC classes, always do your research—check in advance with the registrar of your preferred colleges to make sure the credits transfer.”

    Ken Fox, a college and career adviser at Ladue High School, sees no downside to AP courses. “Students are best prepared for college when they take rigorous courses, and success in such courses is a key factor in college admissions,” he says. Though it’s true that students can be overwhelmed by a tough AP course, or by taking too many courses, “our job as counselors and teachers is to make sure the student is ready before they sign up for the classes—and to make sure each student takes the most challenging schedule with which they can be successful.”

    Fox disagrees with Rogan that a low score on the AP exam can cast a shadow on a college career. “Whether your grade on the exam is high or low, you still benefit from the experience of taking an AP course. College admissions officers want to see you’ve challenged yourself to the utmost of your ability. But don’t take an AP course to impress a college—take it only if it’s the appropriate level of challenge for you. Your teachers and counselors will know if you can handle it. Ask them.”