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AP Classes: How to Determine if They're Right for Your Child

AP Classes: How to Determine if They're Right for Your Child

This is what you should think about before signing your child up for AP classes.

Many parents wonder whether an A in a Regents or College Prep class is better than a B in an AP course. As with many things in education, the decision is not a binary yes or no. There is certainly a lot to consider. What are your child’s specific academic needs? What is their level of prior achievement? What are their scholastic interests and strengths? Beyond that, what are their college goals? Though certainly a lot to navigate, having an awareness of the potential benefits of and best strategies for selecting AP courses is key to an informed decision.

Should my child take AP classes?

AP classes are more than just a more rigorous course that offers potential for college credit. These courses are constructed around high standards and are led by teachers who must ultimately demonstrate that their students perform well on the end-of-course exams. Moreover, the AP exam often helps drive content and teaching decisions to make for a better overall course experience for the student, even if it is more challenging. The support and engagement of AP teachers, coupled with the motivation and drive of one’s peers, often encourages higher levels of learning and performance from students.

How to Choose Which AP Courses Your Child Should Take

Of course, it isn’t always sensical to sign up for every advanced-placement course that is offered. The selection of AP courses your child takes should revolve around their academic interests, future college major or career path, and record of prior academic achievement. For a student with little interest in a discipline like physics, for example, it may not be wise to push enrollment in an AP physics course that could ultimately lead to below-average learning outcomes. However, for those on the cusp in terms of their PSAT scores, prior grades, and counselor recommendations, it is often wise to err toward selecting AP courses.

How many AP classes should my child take each year?

For some students, balancing one to two AP courses per year is a reasonable goal that can offer significant benefits in the college-admissions process. Some students can handle more AP classes, while others are in IB.

What are the benefits of taking AP classes?

One of the most important aspects of a college application is the high school transcript, more specifically the level of demonstrated rigor in one’s course schedule and associated levels of performance. This rings especially true in light of the College Board’s recent decision to eliminate SAT Subject Tests, making the demonstration of subject strengths on student transcripts all the more important. Most schools would rather see students challenge themselves, even if it may mean slightly lower levels of performance. With proper organization, study skills, and teacher communication, however, students can often perform as well as or better than their previous academic record.

Beyond the admissions advantage, taking more advanced coursework can provide students the opportunity to engage more deeply with particular fields of interest, potentially discovering new major or career interests along the way.

Plus, exam credits can also offer savings on degree requirements in college, or allow for a greater breadth in the college courses available to your student.

Ultimately, AP classes can be better taught, supported, organized, and recognized by admission officers as the gold-standard course. Cultivating a balanced schedule that both supports students’ individual needs and provides enough challenge to facilitate academic growth will often provide the best results in high school and beyond.


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Tony Di Giacomo, Ph.D., is the founder of Novella Prep, a tutoring, college planning, and academic advising service for families in Westchester County and Fairfield County, CT. Dr. Di Giacomo has more than 15 years of experience working in admissions, development, teaching, researching, and counseling.

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