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Many high school students choose to take AP courses due to their benefits while in high school, in college applications, and beyond. According to the College Board, which administers the AP tests, “AP gives students the chance to tackle college-level work while they’re still in high school and earn college credit and placement.” While AP courses aren’t for everyone, they are a helpful tool for post-secondary education. This article will outline the benefits of AP courses, as well as give insight from a high school guidance counselor on how best to go about this process and if it’s right for you.

1. Higher level of rigor

As AP literally stands for “advanced placement,” students know they are entering a course that has higher standards than other high school courses. The rigor is in line with college courses, which allows students who want to continue their education after high school to get a taste of what that future education will be like.

“One of the benefits of taking an AP class is the exposure to the level of thinking, rigor, and academics that will give students a pretty good sense of what they’re headed for as they go into college,” said Jim Brandt, a high school guidance counselor in the Cherry Creek School District in Denver.

Students will also dive deeper into a particular subject they’re interested in when they take AP courses, which gives them an idea of where their passions may lie.

“I decided to take an AP course first and foremost because it was a subject I was passionate about, and I wanted that extra challenge,” said Victoria Davis, Product Marketing Manager at Peterson’s.

Jason Natzke, Video Producer at Peterson’s, also took an AP course in high school. Natzke had taken French classes since middle school, and decided to challenge himself his senior year of high school by taking AP French.

“Taking the AP class really prepared me for the academic intensity of college. I discovered how much preparation you need to put in for a serious test…you can’t just cram for an AP test and expect to get a good grade! Taking AP French not only made me a better test taker but enhanced my comfort with the language,” said Natzke.

Another aspect of these advanced courses is that students will be around other students who may have similar goals and can even serve as role models to each other.

“If they’re in an AP class, they’re typically around other students that are also just as studious and on that college path. They’re around kids that are also working towards getting into college so they kind of feed off each other,” said Brandt.

2. Strengthens your college application

Many highly selective schools put a big emphasis on whether or not applicants have taken AP courses. Even less selective schools see the value in a student’s efforts to challenge themselves by taking AP courses. Doing well in these classes shows admissions offices that you’re ready for college level coursework.

AP courses are also “weighted” when applied to your GPA, which means that a grade in an AP course weighs more than a regular class grade would in your overall GPA. For example, an “A” in a regular course translates to a 4.0, while an “A” on the weighted scale translates to a 5.0. To make things simple, think of it as a “B” in an AP course translates to an “A,” while an “A” gives you extra points. This is significant because your GPA is one of the first things colleges look at when admitting new students, and is an important component of your application–arguably the most important. While this isn’t the only factor that determines which colleges you will get into, grades do matter when applying.

However, other factors are also important to your college application. While grades come first, overloading yourself with AP courses to the point where you don’t have time to participate in any extracurricular activities may not be the best route.

“The AP advice is, it is always great for you to push yourself so you get a sense of what it’s all about, but I also think that you have to do that in balance,” said Brandt. “Being well-rounded is as important as anything when you start looking at colleges.”

To find that balance, maintain a rigorous course load, but make sure you still have time to participate in an after-school club, sport, or hobby that will allow you to be well-rounded. This will benefit your college applications as well as your own sanity.

3. Earn college credit

With today’s tuition prices, students want to graduate as soon as possible. One way to do this is to get college credit beforehand by achieving a certain score on AP tests. Colleges recognize that AP courses teach college-level material and will allow the course to count towards a similar college course. Meaning, you have effectively already taken the course and can transfer in the credit. That is, if you earn the score your college requires.

“The caveat is that you can take the class but then you have to also do well on the AP test in order to be qualified for that college credit,” said Brandt.

AP tests are graded on a one to five scale, and most colleges will count a score of a three or higher as college credit. This can save you hundreds of dollars, depending on your tuition. Of course, some schools are more selective than this and have a higher score standard, while others will not accept the credit at all. Other schools may accept the courses as college credit in the form of general requirements or elective credit, but the course can’t be used for your major requirements. Whether your school accepts a course or not, these courses will still benefit you in preparing for the course load these selective schools may offer–and will help you get into them.

See also: How to Graduate College in Four Years or Less

Despite all these benefits of AP courses, these don’t take effect if you are overwhelmed and failing your AP classes.

“It is something that I think every kid in high school could benefit from,” said Brandt, in reference to taking AP courses. “In saying that, I would also say that there are some kids that it’s not appropriate for.”

If you already struggle with normal high school classes, you probably won’t benefit from taking an AP course until you are able to strengthen your academics. Likewise, taking too many AP courses too quickly may also overwhelm you and your grades may suffer. Start with a course or two before jumping into multiple AP courses to see how you fare with this level of rigor.

AP courses are a useful tool for enriching your studies now and later. However, not every high school student is the same. While some college-bound students are very focused on academics and may handle many AP courses, others may choose to take a few AP classes, but focus more on extracurricular activities. Still, others may choose not to take any of these courses at all and find other ways to stand out to colleges. However, starting with an AP course in a subject you are interested in can help you test the waters and find out what AP path will best benefit you.

For AP test prep, visit petersons.com/testprep/ap.