Advanced Placement courses: Do they make a difference in the college search process?

Vanessa Infanzon

Photo by Charlotte Country Day School

There are so many decisions to make throughout high school. What electives should I take? Should I opt for an early release? How many organizations do I want to join? Do I continue with foreign language study? And, of course, who am I taking to the prom?

Deciding whether to take Advanced Placement or AP courses is another decision students may need to make in high school. Like the International Baccalaureate diploma, students choose to participate in the AP curriculum. Before making the choice, learn about what options are available at your high school and how they may help you meet your future goals.

Experts from Davidson College and Charlotte Country Day School answer questions about AP courses:

What are the advantages of taking AP classes while in high school?

“There are two primary benefits,” said Chris Gruber, vice president and dean of admission and financial aid at Davidson College. “The first is that students who have done well in AP classes can show colleges that they have embraced the most challenging material. Obviously, that is attractive to colleges. Second, students who do well on AP exams frequently receive college credit and/or they can place into higher-level classes in college. That can reduce their total tuition expense.”

Katie Elsasser, director of college counseling at Charlotte Country Day School, said: “Taking Advanced Placement courses in high school gives students exposure to the depth and breadth of a college level course.  

“Each course prepares the student for an AP exam at the end of the school year. Students may earn college credit, depending on their scores and the college and its requirements. Students can take one or several AP (courses) in their areas of interest and in their areas of strength. There are over 35 AP courses, in almost every area of study, but individual high schools determine which courses they choose to offer to their students,” Elsasser said

Photo by Charlotte Country Day School

What might students expect in an AP course?

“AP courses are like the introductory courses taught at the college level,” Elsasser said. “Typically, they are a survey course that incorporates a good deal of reading, writing, and critical thinking skills.

“AP courses are rigorous,” she added. “The pace, the level of material to master, and the test at the end of the year are all part of these challenging classes. Students should be prepared to have a good deal of homework for each AP course they are taking.”

How do admission officers view AP credit? How is credit awarded in general?

From an admissions point of view, AP credit is a signal that students earning high scores (4s and 5s) can handle challenging material,” Gruber said. “But admission officers have no control over awarding class credit. At most colleges and universities, the faculty determine how credit is awarded.”

 What are the downsides of taking AP classes?

 “Some students believe that the more AP courses on your transcript, the better,” Gruber said. “And that’s true to a certain extent, but college admission officers are looking for students who take challenging classes at the appropriate level. If a student is struggling in an AP course they are not prepared for, no one benefits.

How do I know what credits are accepted for AP courses? 

 “The credit given for each course can be found on college websites, typically on the registrar’s page,” Elsasser said. Each school has its own policies on what they accept and what score is required on the AP exam.

Photo by Davidson College

What should prospective students be asking the college admission counselors about AP courses?

Gruber suggests:

  • To be a competitive candidate at your college/university, what AP courses should I consider taking?
  • Should I focus on certain subjects?
  • What is the maximum benefit that I will receive at your college from AP courses and exams?
  • How many credits or placements can I get?


Vanessa Infanzon is a freelance writer based in Charlotte. In her former life, she worked in Student Life at Davidson College, UNC Charlotte and Queens University of Charlotte. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook @morethanVMI.