Does AP Give Your Child a Head Start? by Jackie Plantier, Student School Board Member

You’ve probably heard the acronym, AP, thrown around in conversation – but what really are AP courses? In the last decade alone, Advanced Placement (AP) level classes have exploded from a few niche offerings to the norm in many competitive school districts. High-achieving students clamor to fill up their schedules with these challenging courses, sometimes garnering even more credit hours per semester than actual undergraduates.

Understandably, the growing push toward this more rigorous schedule and the program’s ever-increasing sticker price have left many parents wondering – is it really worth it?

Advanced Placement or “AP” classes are most commonly presented as the pinnacle of rigor in a student’s high school career. True enough, they do glisten on transcripts come college admissions season. But, there is an even greater value in the implicit lessons of AP courses than those that are presented in the textbook. A key hallmark of advanced placement curriculum is extensive amounts of reading. Students are expected to quickly adapt to large reading assignments and are required to take in droves of information in record time; this is on par with the typical college experience.

On the other hand, students who transition straight to postsecondary education without this valuable experience can have a tough time settling into the new expectations. Generally speaking, AP students become better readers and develop smarter studying techniques than their peers, skills that will no doubt come in handy in college.  It’s not just the grade that counts, but the skills and values learned from the unique experience.

Advanced Placement classes can also be huge money savers – students can earn college credit before even setting foot on campus by scoring high enough on the cumulative exam. These AP exams; however, run about $92 a pop. Multiply this by five classes and you’re looking at quite a serious investment. All of these upfront costs can seem daunting, especially when coupled with the uncertainty of the student’s performance on the exam. Yet, the value is still undeniable. Typically, each exam is worth about 3 credits. On average, a single college credit hour can run upwards of $600. When compared to the typical $1800 bill for a single college class, $92 doesn’t look too bad.

Usually, AP classes translate to credit for introductory courses required for all students regardless of major. Scoring high enough on corresponding AP exams can allow students to bypass these 500 person Gen-Ed lecture halls that college freshmen fall prey to, and sooner dive into classes actually relevant to their major. Also, there are some important advantages towards taking these classes while still in high school. For example, small class sizes and teacher support. While in high school, students have far greater access to their teachers and opportunities for help.  Students at Menomonee Falls High School, for example, can go to the Math Resource Center any hour of the school day to get one-on-one tutoring on a skill.

Another hidden benefit of Advanced Placement is rarely talked about. The students who accumulate massive amounts of college credit while still in high school may look gleefully towards the prospect of graduating years earlier than their peers. However, there also is an advantage in taking the same class once in college. Armed with a year’s worth of notes, worksheets, and resources from high school, success in tough college courses seems far more attainable. College is hard enough as it is; sometimes, the background knowledge of already taking the class is just enough to set up a student for success (and might lead to that GPA boost that qualifies him or her for that internship).

Advanced Placement classes may not be the right fit for every student, but if your child is planning on going on to attend college, taking at least one is a great idea. Their merits go far beyond the surface of rigor: saving you money, teaching you valuable skills and setting you on a strong path to postsecondary success.

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