Tuesday, April 27, 2010

AP Exams and Courses for Homeschoolers

A recent review product, an AP study product, has sparked quite a bit of discussion among the TOS Crew regarding AP classes and exams. Unfortunately, many homeschoolers aren't really sure what AP is all about nor how it might benefit their homeschool.

First let me say, I knew nothing about AP courses a few years ago. My high school experience did not include AP exams. My school hardly offered honors courses, let alone AP courses. Over the last couple of years, however, I've made a point to give myself an education in preparation for homeschooling a high school student.

What is AP?
AP stands for Advanced Placement. There are AP courses and AP exams. Typically, AP courses are taken at high schools, but there are online options available for homeschoolers. The AP class is a preparation course for the AP exam. It is to cover specific material the student will see on the May test, administered by the College Board. Visit the College Board website for a detailed explanation straight from the source.

What does taking the AP exam do for your student?
AP exams can earn college credit or advanced placement. Over 90% of 4-year colleges offer some AP credit or will allow incoming students to be placed in higher level courses based on exam scores. This could save a lot of money in tuition and allow the student more time to pursue a double major or take more upper level classes of interest.

How is AP different from CLEP?
AP is more difficult and more widely recognized than CLEP. Some colleges accept CLEP courses, but not all. Most colleges will be much more impressed with AP exams than CLEP exams. Depending on what college your student wants to attend, CLEP may serve a purpose. Our state college, for example, accepts CLEP. More competitive schools are going to want to see AP exams.

Why should homeschoolers take AP courses?
One of the advantages to taking the courses is, of course, to do better on the exam. It also gives the student a competitive transcript because AP courses are considered to be difficult classes. Taking AP courses shows colleges that your student pursued the most rigorous courses available. It helps your student stand out among many applicants.

Do you have to take the course to take the exam?
No! Students can take the exam without an official class. They will need to study at home and cover the material thoroughly. There is nothing wrong with this method. For some exams, certain texts are recommended as preparation to make sure the material is covered. For example, for AP Biology, many people will use a text by Reece and Campbell. You can't call your self-study course AP on the transcript, though, because all AP courses need to be approved by the College Board to be official.

Can homeschoolers take AP courses at the local high school?
Sometimes. It depends on the state. Here in Michigan, homeschoolers are allowed to participate in non-essential classes. Usually this includes courses such as art, computers, and band. However, AP courses are considered non-essential and elective courses, making homeschoolers eligible to take them at the local school.

A word of caution - be sure to check out the rigor of the AP courses at your local school. Quality does vary. You want your student to be prepared for the exam at the end of the class and sadly, not all courses do a good job of this. I used the website Great Schools to check out our local high school. After reading the reviews, I decided to opt for something else.

What other options are there for AP courses other than the local school?
There are many online options. The one I've heard the most often is Pennsylvania Homeschoolers. PA Homeschoolers offers nearly 20 College Board-approved AP courses for homeschoolers (and only homeschoolers).

Other options*:
Patrick Henry College Preparatory Academy
The Potter's School
John Hopkin's CTY
Debra Bell's AP English
Northstar Academy
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
APEX Learning
Keystone National High School

*This is neither an endorsed nor an inclusive list.

Be aware that AP test scores stay on the student's permanent record with the College Board. You do not want your student taking an AP exam unless you are certain they will do well on it. Otherwise, it could look poorly on a college application. In general, however, pursing AP courses and exams can be very beneficial if you have a student ready for the rigor and interested in getting a head start on college.


Debbie said...

Great post, Heidi! Very thorough and helpful explanations of the AP test process.

Shawn Cohen said...


I appreciate your thoughts about AP exams and CLEP.

I would challenge you in one area, however, in that thousands of homeschoolers are using CLEP for dual credit and actually graduating with their bachelor's degree before they finish high school.

You can read about this for yourself: http://www.collegeplus.org/ebookportal/dual-credit-ebook/request-dual-credit-ebook/ebooks.

Thanks for checking it out--I'd look forward to hearing your thoughts on the concept.

Heidi said...


I normally don't allow comments that are a means of advertisement, but you have brought up a point that I'd like to address.

CLEP exams have their place, and I did acknowledge that. However, I think the student's goals need to be clearly established before deciding whether to go the CLEP or AP route (or neither!).

The goal may not always be to earn a college degree by 18. Attending a 4-year university can be a very awarding experience and a time of growth.

Additionally, a student may desire acceptance into a highly competitive school or program. CLEP exams won't necessarily get them far in this case.

I'm not against CLEP exams. I'm actually considering the CLEP Biology soon for my younger student. She isn't sure where she'd like to go to college, but has covered the material for the exam already. In the end, it may not benefit her much. However, the material is fresh now and it can't hurt.

CLEP exams definitely have potential to benefit a student. However, CLEP exams don't always meet the goals of every student. I would be very careful of recommending a student focus on just AP or just CLEP without knowing what the end goal of the student.

Anonymous said...

I highly recommend AP courses and tests. It is a good return on investment to save money on tuition. I took several AP exams in high school and earned 32 units of college credit at the Univ. of CA, San Diego, which allowed me to graduate in 3 and 2/3 years.

Sravani said...

Hi Heidi,
Great post on AP and CLEP. I do agree it depends on the goal of the student. With respect to my dd, she has taken AP bio before and will be take 4 more APs this year. Again, she is not looking for college credit, more so to show that she worked on the challenging material. Also, she loves tests. And few of the selective schools she is looking into is not accepting CLEP. But they are also looking into unique potential of the child and path, and maybe Ok with not having APs either...but I just let the child decide...

Anonymous said...

AP test scores CAN be deleted at any time.

Heidi said...

Yes, scores can be deleted, but depending on when they are canceled, they could still show up on the report for that year. Also, according tothe following section copied and pasted from the College Board site, while the scores can be deleted, it looks like the report will note that is has been. At least, that is how I'm interpreting that last sentence.

"If a student requests cancellation of an AP Exam score, that score is deleted permanently from the student's records and can never be retrieved. There is no fee for score cancellation, and the exam fee is not refunded. Scores may be canceled at any time. However, for scores not to appear on the current year's score report, AP Services must receive a signed, written request by mail or fax requesting cancellation by June 15. Students should complete the Score Cancellation Form (.pdf/113K) and return it to the address or fax number indicated. While there is no fee for this service, the exam fee is not refunded. The score report that the student and the school receive will indicate that the score has been canceled. "

Given all that, I would still caution that students make sure they are prepared before taking an AP exam.

Anonymous said...

When you delete a score later on, it is deleted for good.
The statement you are referring to is only talking about high schools receiving the original score report, not the colleges you send the reports to.
Colleges DO NOT see when you delete a score.
Refer to College Board.

Heidi said...

That is good to know that it may not be on the college report. Yes, I would suggest that anyone concerned about canceling a score check directly with the College Board with your specific questions.

Sarah Hall said...

Hello there! Why should homeschoolers take AP courses? I wonder what specific subjects does an AP cover? What happens if a student requests cancellation of an AP Exam score? Best regards, online term paper writing service

joyrobbins1234 said...

Helpful outline... Thanks

I am trying to research an Online Homeschool Program that offers the AP course work and exams, are you aware of any?

Cheers, Joy