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Does it Make Sense to Take Lots of AP Courses for Your GPA?

by Bonnie Crowe

Advanced Placement classes are high school courses meant to prepare students to take the AP test at the end of the school year, and are designed to be taught at a university level. They are much more difficult than typical high school classes in the same subjects, and require in-depth study and increased reading, analysis and writing demands. If you want to take AP classes in high school to boost your grade point average, weigh the advantages with the disadvantages before adding them to your schedule.

What Is a Weighted GPA?

The standard high school GPA is calculated on a 4.0 scale. This means that if you got straight A’s in every class, you would have a 4.0 GPA. However, many high schools offer what is called a weighted GPA, rewarding more difficult AP classes with an extra point. If a student were to get straight A’s in nothing but AP classes, he would get a 5.0 GPA. If a student gets all B’s in all AP classes, and a B in a standard class is worth 3 points, that student would have a 4.0.

Is a Weighted GPA Worth It?

According to The Ivy Coach, some high schools give extra weight to AP classes, while others do not. Each college has its own admission standard when it comes to accepting weighted grades. Some universities will only take weighted grades in certain academic subjects; others may not count the weighted grade a high school offers, while still other colleges could give a weighted grade for an AP class that a high school does not give to its student. Overall, universities will look at both weighted and unweighted GPAs for a candidate, and many will give you that extra point for an AP class. With acceptance hinging on a student’s GPA, the more points you can get to raise your average, the greater chance you have of edging out the competition for the school of your choice.

What If I Fail?

Taking an AP class in something you don’t enjoy and are not good in could do more harm than good to your GPA. Just because you get an extra point for a C or a D doesn’t mean that colleges won’t see that on your transcripts and judge you negatively for it. You might be better off getting a B or an A in a regular class than a lower grade in an AP class; and you will get zero points averaged into your GPA if you get an F in an AP class. Just as succeeding in an AP class shows a school you are capable of handling the subject on a college level, failing it shows you aren’t ready for it yet.

Getting Credit

Students who pass AP tests can earn college credits at many schools. Some schools only accept 4's or 5's, while others will give some credit for 3's. Some of the top science and technical schools, such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology or California Institute of Technology, won’t give credit for AP tests in the sciences, but will give units in other subjects, such as math or language arts. Also, many schools will allow those who passed AP exams to skip lower level introductory classes and take more advanced classes in subjects you excel at and enjoy.

Making an Impression

According to the College Board, which administers the AP test, 85 percent of certain schools’ admission boards gave preference to students who had successfully taken AP classes. Doing well in an AP class shows that you are capable of excelling at college level work and are willing to challenge yourself. Even if a college doesn’t allow you to have a weighted GPA or doesn’t give you credit for passing the AP test, the admissions board will likely still be impressed if you succeed with high marks in AP classes, giving you a distinct advantage for admission.

About the Author

Bonnie Crowe is a mother of two teenagers; a teacher and author of children's books, curriculum and articles on English grammar, literature, technology, art, parenting and career guides for high schoolers. She's a former director of AOL Parenting, a member of SCBWI, and a graduate from the University of California,Berkeley.

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