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The Advanced Placement Program
The Advanced Placement (AP) program is managed by the College Board, which is the same organization that administers the SAT exam. Because they are designed to build college-level skills, AP courses offer high school students a unique opportunity for college preparation.
After completing an AP course, students have the option to take the associated AP exam. The exam is not required, but a high score - typically a 4 or a 5 on a 5-point scale - can lead to college credit. According to the College Board, 90% of colleges and universities award college credit, placement in advanced courses, or both after earning a qualifying score on the AP exam. You can check with your prospective college or university to find out about its AP credit policy.
Because of the host of advantages, the AP program has become incredibly popular. In the 2011-12 school year, 18,647 high schools offered AP courses and 2,099,948 students took AP exams.
Advanced Placement Courses
There are currently 34 courses and exams available through the AP program in the areas of arts, English, sciences, math and computer science, world language and cultures, and history and social science.
Although these courses are offered all over the country, the curricula are standardized in order to ensure that coursework is always at an advanced level. High school AP coordinators can provide students with detailed information about each class. Additionally, students may be able to take certain AP courses online through approved providers.
Most high schools require students to be juniors or seniors to take AP courses, although some institutions make exceptions for especially talented younger students. To find out how to enroll, contact the AP coordinator at your school. Be sure to discuss the course requirements and workload to ensure that you're truly prepared for this undertaking. For students who have taken the PSAT/NMSQT, the College Board recommends using the results to help decide which class might be a good fit.
Taking AP Exams
As noted above, students are not required to take the AP exam after completing an AP course. Conversely, students don't have to complete an AP course to take the exam, although it's highly recommended if the course is available. The advantage to this rule is that home-schooled students and those whose schools don't offer AP courses can still get college credit by taking an AP exam.
Students typically take the exams in their junior and senior years of high school. There is a fee to register, and tests are administered in the spring. Scores are reported to students and colleges the following summer. Students are allowed to retake an exam the following year. All scores are reported unless the student cancels the score or withholds the score from being reported to a specific college.