Why AP’s for College Credit Matter

To many people, the AP exams are a litany of stress inducing acronyms – MC, DBQ, LEQ, SAQ – and numbers: Does a 3 get me college credit? What’s the difference between a 4 and a 5? While the AP system can be convoluted, there are some very beneficial reasons for undertaking such a stressful course and exam. The two most obvious benefits both deal with college. AP courses look great on college applications, and high enough scores on the exam earn you college credit. 

Let’s start with college admissions. This process is incredibly stressful and overly competitive. The top universities all share one thing in common – declining almost every single applicant year in and year out. Guess what Harvard and Stanford’s acceptance rates are. A whopping 4.5%. Yale: 7% and Vanderbilt: 11%.

Let’s put those percentages into real numbers real quick. We can stick with Harvard as our example. Last year, a record number of applicants (43,330 to be exact) went through the process of filling out an application, getting personalized letters of recommendation, writing college essays, and paying a $75 application fee (that’s over $3.2 million spent on applications alone). FORTY-THREE THOUSAND! That’s enough people to fill the Mets’ Citi Field, and still have about 2,000 people stuck tailgating in the parking lot.

Of those 43,330 students who applied, only 1,950 were admitted. Now, I didn’t get into Harvard either, but I can do some basic math to figure out how many students were rejected – and that number comes out to 41,380. Just under two thousand students were accepted while just over forty-one thousand were denied.

And this is Harvard which means there were tens of thousands of valedictorians and trust-fund babies denied admission. Getting accepted to Harvard is an uphill battle, unless your parents went there since legacy applications made up 36% of last year’s freshman class and are 45% more likely to be accepted. (Before you start to panic too much though, you can read my article on why it doesn’t actually matter which college you go to).

However, having AP courses on your record makes you stand out in the college admissions department. Taking AP courses shows that your child is a driven student who wants to challenge themselves. This is a college level course taken during high school. It involves much more reading than a regular high school course, the tests are harder, and the material goes into much more depth than the surface level high school courses.

Any student who signs up for this course knows that there is a good chance they will get a lower grade in the AP level course than they would in the prep or honors level course. And colleges love to see this willingness of students to push themselves. Taking an AP course shows a certain level of fearlessness along with a drive for academic improvement.

Colleges would rather see a B+ in an AP course than an A+ in a regular or honors course. In all seriousness, AP courses are one time where a lower GPA can help you (although high schools typically weight AP scores to make up for this grade dip that often occurs).

And here are the best parts: one, the score on the AP exam doesn’t matter at all for the college admissions process. The colleges won’t see your AP exam scores until AFTER you are accepted at which time they see if your score qualifies you for a course credit. So even if you bomb the exam itself, just taking the course gave you a huge leg up in the admissions process. 

Now we don’t want to bomb the exam (even though it won’t hurt in admissions) because of the second best part of the AP’s – college credit. College is expensive – like “putting a down payment on a new, nice house every year for four years” expensive. The average cost of tuition and fees alone is $10,116 a year for public, in-state colleges; $22,577 for public, out-of-state colleges; and $36,801 for private colleges. And keep in mind that this is just tuition and basic fees. When you add in room and board, etc the cost comes to $25,290 for public, in-state colleges; $40,940 for public, out-of-state colleges, and $50,900 for private colleges. WOW!

Okay, so take a moment and reach for that paper bag (or tumbler of scotch) and once you’re done hyperventilating, I have some good news related to the APs and defrayed college costs. For every AP course that your student takes, and passes the exam with a certain score, you receive credit for that class and do not have to take it in college.

The average cost per credit hour across all colleges is $594 per credit hour. Most courses are 3 credit hours. So, each AP course can save you an average of almost $1,800. In private colleges those saving are even more – as each 3 hour course would cost over $3,000 on average. I can also personally attest to the benefits of passing AP exams as I had maybe 4 AP courses through high school (which is not considered a whole lot anymore), and I graduated a whole semester early – saving $15,000 because of it.

Earlier we said that the AP exam scores don’t matter in terms of college admissions; however, they do matter in terms of getting these college credits. A passing score on the AP exam is a 3 or higher. This means that, depending on the school, you can receive credit for a score of 3, 4, or 5 on that AP exam. Each school is different though. So while a 3 will get you credit for AP US History at the University of Florida, you will need a 4 to get credit at Duke, and you will need to get a 5 to credit at Harvard. You can see each school’s required score for each exam here

So the AP’s really do matter. Because of their importance in terms of college admissions and the potential to save you thousands or tens of thousands of dollars in college tuition. However, these courses are very difficult and the exams are incredibly specialized. So many incredibly gifted students get A’s in the course, but fail the exam because they were not properly prepared for the way that AP exams are graded – which is based on a very specific rubric.

For all of these reasons, getting an AP Tutor is well worth the investment. The cost for a few hours a month can save you thousands in the long term, and your student will be better equipped to take advantage of the test and get that passing score.

My students have over a 95% pass rate on the AP exams – with 90% receiving a 4 or 5. I balance both teaching the course material to help your child improve throughout the year and increase their score in the AP course (helping with college admissions) and teaching your child exactly how to beat the AP rubric at its own game.

We will cover how to write a great AP ESSAY instead of just a great essay – this is an area many tutors fail to cover or do not understand. Also, I will work with your child on an individualized plan.

Every student learns differently, and I will cater each lesson to what helps your child learn best and to what they need that week – even if it’s different than we originally planned. The aspect of tutoring that I love most is that it is so individualized – I get to work one on one with these students who often lack confidence or are overly stressed.

In the classroom, with dozens or hundreds of students, constant grading, excess paperwork, etc., I was unable to help each child with their confidence and academic stresses, but as a tutor I can and will work with your child in these areas too.

As students slowly improve over the course of a semester their confidence in themselves improves – which can help in math, science, and sports – all from a history tutor. I also specialize in working with test anxiety and relieving academic stresses through mindful education practices.

As your child becomes less stressed at school, you will become less stressed as well as you have one less thing to worry about or see their growth and improved confidence.