Back in high school, I knew the following about AP tests:
1. They looked good on college apps.
2. They could give college credit.
It’s the latter I didn’t fully appreciate at the time. Looking back, I wish somebody had grabbed me by the shoulders, shaken me and said, “Serious, AP tests are really amazing and so worth it!”
So if you’re not a senior yet, use my story to keep you from making the same mistakes I did.
What good is college credit, anyway?
I started out in college as a computer science major. Two semesters in, I realized I’d go insane if I did nothing but write code for four years, so I added an English major for fun. The thing was, my double-major was actually a dual-degree—English was a B.A. while computer science was a B.S. This meant that I had to complete general credits for the school of humanities and for the school of engineering. There was some overlap, but not much.
Spring of freshman year, I sat down to do the math and discovered that I’d have to take 6 classes a semester (commonly students take 4 or 5) to graduate on time, and then I’d graduate with exactly 2 classes to spare.
It was at this precise moment that I realized—much too late in the game—how incredible AP tests are. I had 3 free credits, compliments of AP. I was on track to graduate with 2 classes to spare. You can do the math here: If not for AP, I wouldn’t have been able to graduate in four years.
The power of AP credit
One thing you should know is that “AP class” is not the same thing as “AP test.” You can take any AP test you want; you don’t need to have taken the corresponding class.
Case in point: Calculus. I was really good at math in high school and never broke a sweat in AP calc. My school only offered Calc AB, not Calc BC, so I unthinkingly took the Calc AB test and breezed to a 5. The thing is, it wouldn’t have been that hard for me to study for the “C” part of Calc BC on my own and take the BC test instead. I would then have gotten credit for Calc 1 and Calc 2. As it was, I only got credit for Calc 1, so my freshman year I had to take Calc 2.
Think about that for a moment: a few hours of effort in high school would have spared me from taking an entire class in college. It’s not that I disliked taking Calc 2 at the time—it was easy, and I got an A. But if I hadn’t needed to take it, I could have taken a class on Tolstoy or philosophy or French or anything else I found interesting.
Putting that credit to use!
Having free AP credit when you arrive on campus translates to extra time in college. There are four main ways you can use that time:
- Complete a major/degree combo that might ordinarily be impossible (this is the path I chose, getting both a humanities and an engineering degree).
- Graduate early and save tens of thousands of dollars.
- Take fewer classes per quarter or semester, giving you more space to focus on your grades, a job, a sport, or any other extracurricular pursuit.
- Take a bunch of fun electives and learn a lot of awesome stuff.
I know it’s tempting to avoid AP tests because high school is busy enough; but if you can squeeze an extra AP test or two into your high school preparation, I highly recommend it. When you get to college, you’ll never regret having fewer mandatory classes and more freedom to explore.