What Are AP Classes? Your Guide

June 7, 2023
7 min read

Looking to learn about AP classes? Follow along for a complete overview to help you make the most informed decision. 

If you’re reading this article, there is a good chance your high school offers AP courses and you’re considering enrolling in some. AP classes, or Advanced Placement classes, are high-school classes that offer students the opportunity to take college-level courses and exams. 

In 2022, nearly 1.1 million high school students took at least one AP class, which accounts for 34.6% of 2022’s high school graduates. Now you may be wondering, what are AP classes? And how do they differ from other high school courses? 

To help you answer these questions and more, we’ve put together this comprehensive guide. In it, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about AP classes, including how many you should take, their benefits, and more. 

By the time you’re done reading, not only will you know the ins and outs of the AP program but you will be better equipped to determine if the AP program is right for you.

What Are AP Classes?

The AP program was created in the mid-1950s by the College Board, the same folks that administer the SAT and PSATs, with the goal to better equip students for success during their first few years at college. 

For this reason, the course load for AP classes tends to mirror that of a first-year university class, meaning they will be more rigorous and intensive than their equivalent high school classes. 

So, how does the AP program work? Well, students begin by enrolling in the AP classes of their choice. Students can choose from over 30 AP classes on a wide range of topics. 

Though some subjects are not included in the AP program, this does not mean that non-AP classes are any less challenging or important, rather that they simply fall outside the scope of the program at this time. 

Once enrolled, students work their way through the necessary coursework, as they would any other high school class. Once completed, students have to pass a final exam intended to test their knowledge of their course(s). If you do well on your exam(s), your AP class can then be used as a credit towards your college degree. 

Most universities accept and recognize AP classes as equivalent to their intro-level courses, meaning they can be used in lieu of certain courses’ prerequisites.   

Why Should You Take AP Classes?

There are many reasons why someone would want to take an AP class. These can range from personal interest to possibility of helping alleviate some post-secondary financial stress. 

While we would love to provide every single one of the AP program’s benefits, we have instead listed the most commonly-mentioned reasons students have chosen to take AP classes during their high school career.  

Earn College Credits

One of the biggest appeals of AP classes is their ability to act as a credit towards your college degree. This can save you not only money, but time, since AP classes are less expensive than college courses. 

Once you’ve passed AP class, you can then use this credit towards your college degree by enrolling in second-year courses without having to take the otherwise required first-year courses.   

Engage With a Variety of Courses 

AP classes are offered on a variety of subjects. If you are excellent in French, let’s say, but find your high school classes to be underwhelming, then an AP French course may be exactly what you need to increase your knowledge and push you further in your studies. 

The wonderful thing about AP courses is that you are not limited to your high school. If, for whatever reason, your school does not offer a specific AP class that you interested in taking, you have the ability to enroll in that course at another high school

Develop a Deeper Knowledge of Particular Subjects

The course content for an AP class intends to be more challenging than its non-AP counterpart. And for good reason; these classes are meant to replicate introductory-level college courses. 

Students are expected to not only progress through the course material at a quicker pace than a typical high school class, but also spend more time thinking critically about the content. 

This means that, after an AP course, you should have a deeper understanding and knowledge of the subject than you would if you have taken the non-AP counterpart course your high school offers. 

In essence, this means you can explore your passions and interests in a more comprehensive way that will allow you to see if these subjects are truly what you’d want to pursue with your future college degree.

How Many AP Classes Should You Take?

Understandably, you may be wondering - how many AP classes should you take? That answer is multifaceted. The simple answer is that you can take as many as you’d like. Since the AP program offers students flexibility in their learning, you can choose to take as many, or as few, AP classes as you wish as long as you can balance your schedule.  

If there is only one course that appeals to you or you think you’d only do well in a few, that’s totally fine. As we said before, since the AP Program is offered in a ton of schools across the country, you have the option of enrolling classes offered at neighbouring high schools.

That said, if you know you’d like to attend a specific college one day it would be a good idea to see if they have a preference for applicants to take a certain number of AP courses during their high school careers.

Are AP Classes Worth It?

Yes, they are absolutely worth it if you are passionate and/or curious about the subject matter. Considering that many colleges accept AP classes as equivalent to first-year courses, you could also be saving yourself time and money by taking an AP course in high school. 

If you are mulling over whether post-secondary education is the right path for you, taking an AP course may give you some insight into what college classes will be like. 

AP courses may be the right path for you, but, if you’re still uncertain, we recommend talking to your guidance counsellor or reaching out to the AP Program support team to chat with someone that may be able to provide you with more individualized advice. 

There are also wonderful resources available to help you in this journey, such as The Foundation Learning’s AP assessment and tutoring service.

FAQs: AP Classes in High School

You may still be wondering, what are AP classes really going to be able to do for me in the long-run? Will Harvard accept my AP credits or am I working extra hard for no reason? Don’t worry, we have those answers. 

1. What Is the Benefit of Taking AP Classes in High School?

There are many benefits to taking AP classes in high school! Below is a brief summary of all those possible benefits:  

  • You can possibly use your AP class credit towards completing your future college degree; 
  • You will experience a college level intro course load, which can give you insight into whether or not college is right for you;
  • You can potentially boost your GPA since AP courses are often given more weight when calculating a student’s PGA;
  • You will develop a deeper, more comprehensive understanding of a subject; 
  • You can save yourself time and money if you decide to pursue a post-secondary degree; and,
  • If you do decide to go to college, many universities look very favourably on students who have taken AP classes as it communicates that those students are serious and committed to a post-secondary degree.

So, what are the benefits of taking AP classes in high school? Now you know there isn’t just one or even two, but a ton of benefits to getting involved in your high school’s AP program. 

2. What Is the Hardest AP?

While the answer to this question is arguably a subjective one since each student excels at different subjects, it seems that, for the most part, students tend to find AP Physics 1 to be the most challenging course within the AP program. 

This label likely comes from the fact that the course combines the foundational parts of physics with a partial hands-on component; students are required to do lab work to apply the theories and phenomena that you learned. 

If you are considering this course, do not let the title of most challenging or the required lab work deter you. It is a wonderful chance to see if this kind of work is something you enjoy. And, there are wonderful course-specific tutoring tools available to you so you will not have to work through difficult study material alone. 

3. How Many AP Classes Should I Take for Harvard?

Harvard does not recognize AP courses as a college credit. This does not mean, however, that all your hard work will go unnoticed. All colleges, including Harvard, implicitly recognize the rigorous course load, organizational skills, and commitment a student needs to have to complete an AP class! 

So, if Harvard is your dream school, but now you’re wondering why you’ve taken several AP courses, keep in mind that these accomplishments speak to your character and show the admissions team your serious commitment to both higher education and personal betterment. 

At the end of the day, Harvard wants to see who you are and what makes you tick. If you love English literature, then take an AP English Lit. class is a testament to you and your interests. 

If you are still confused about Harvard’s treatment of AP courses, they have a wonderful admissions team that would be more than happy to provide clarification or answer any and all questions you may have.

Final Thoughts

So, what are AP classes? Lets recap: AP classes are high-school courses offered to students through the College Board as a way for high school students to experience introductory college-level courses. These classes tend to be more challenging in their course content, workload, and pace of study than their non-AP high school counterpart classes. 

Beyond the basics of what AP classes are, there are many personal reasons why these courses are amazing tools for students. The AP program provides students with an opportunity to really challenge themselves, to take their learning into their own hands and step outside their comfort zone. 

AP classes prepare students not only for future academic success but professional and worldly success as well by teaching them important life skills like time management, organizational skills, and the importance of developing a strong work ethic.  

Like anything in life, there are pros and cons to taking an AP course. For some, the AP route will not be right for them and that’s okay. Ultimately, you have to decide what is best for you and the future you envision for yourself. 

At the end of the day, the AP program is not going anywhere so don’t worry if you need a little more time in determining if this is the right path for you.

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