This spring as your high school student plans his/her Fall 2014 schedule, you might be wondering whether or not taking AP, IB, or community college classes is worth it.  In short, my answer is a resounding yes.  I remember finding out that I was receiving 15 units of college credit for the AP and community college classes I’d taken at Point Loma High School.  If only I’d known then how valuable it was to take those classes!   Being able to get ahead while still in high school saves time, money and effort.

For those of you who are navigating high school courses for the first time, AP (Advanced Placement), IB (International Baccalaureate), and dual-enrollment community college courses are all potential classes that your Honors-level high school student might take over the course of his/her high school career.  Not all schools offer these programs, and for the sake of simplicity we’re going to mainly focus on AP classes.

There are 34 AP classes available to choose from, and though most schools do not offer all 34 classes, most schools offer a large number of them that can be taken as early as sophomore year.  AP classes are designed to be as academically rigorous as college classes.  Teachers receive special training, and the year-long courses culminate with an exam that measures what students have learned.  The classes are intensive and collaborative with a goal of directly relating to a student’s college or career interests.

The Benefits:

  • Weighted GPA: AP scores are weighted on a 5.0 scale.  (I went to high school with a girl whose senior-year semester GPA was a 5.0)
  • Influence on college admissions: According to the College Board website (, “Eighty-five percent of selective colleges and universities report that a student’s AP experience favorably impacts admission decisions.”  Taking AP classes demonstrates that your student is ready for the academic rigor of college.
  • College credit: Upon successful completion of the AP exams at the end of the year, students may receive college credit for each exam they take.  A 5 is the highest score possible, and most schools have different requirements for each class.  For example, a 3 on the AP US History test may be accepted for credit while the same institution might require a 4 to receive credit for AP English Literature.
  • Satisfy college general education requirements while in high school: Many colleges have a general education or core curriculum program that must be completed in addition to major requirements.  If a college requires one history class and your daughter has taken AP European History and received a 4 on the exam, she may never have to take history again.  Given that most high school students don’t always know which college they will attend, the best rule of thumb is to take AP classes that satisfy basic requirements like math, English, foreign language, history, etc.
  • Sophomore Standing in college: Students who finish high school with 24-30 units of college credit completed can apply for Sophomore Standing in college.  This will allow a student to graduate early or pursue multiple majors within a four year timeframe.

Some considerations:

  • Not all students will thrive in accelerated high school classes, and doing poorly in weighted classes will negatively impact GPAs.
  • Students who follow a pre-med track in college will need to repeat courses in spite of receiving AP credit for them.  Generally speaking, AP Biology and AP Chemistry will satisfy general college chemistry and biology, but medical schools will not accept AP credit in lieu of these courses. (This makes sense, as you wouldn’t want your doctor’s basic knowledge of biology to come from high school, even if it was an accelerate course…)
  • Not all AP classes count for general education or core curriculum requirements in college.  AP Statistics and AP English Language (not Literature) are both very popular classes in high school, but generally these classes translate to elective credit in college.

The key to getting the most value from AP classes is taking the exam at the end of the year.  I have met with high school students who only take AP classes to boost their GPA.  They don’t see any value in taking the exam at the end of the semester.  I’ll admit, I was hesitant to take the exams myself.  I wasn’t big on the idea of paying a fee (currently starting at $89; fee reductions and subsidies are available) and sitting through multiple 2-4 hour exams.  However, when I learned how much money I’d saved (the 15 units I earned translates to a semester of college, which at the time was roughly $13,000), I wished I’d taken more AP classes.  It doesn’t make much sense, from a time and cost standpoint, not to take the exam to potentially earn college credit.

If you’re wondering what score is needed on the exam to receive college credit, you can usually go to a college’s website and search “AP scores.”  Most schools offer a rubric that details the scores needed and the number of units awarded.  You can also check with your student’s high school counselor, or consult a private academic coach or counselor.  Having someone available to help guide you through this process can also save you time and money.  As I said, you can eliminate the need to pay for some general education classes in college if you plan ahead, and an academic coach can help you navigate the process in a way that makes sense for your child.


Sarabeth Pollock is a San Diego-based Academic Coach and college admissions consultant.  She spent 12 years working as an academic counselor to D-I student athletes at a private university, and through the years she met with thousands of high school prospects and their families with whom she shared advice about being successful in college.  As an academic coach, she creates custom game plans for each student she works with to help ensure greater academic success.  She can be reached at or visit her website,