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).
Patrick Henry College Preparatory Academy
The Potter's School
John Hopkin's CTY
Debra Bell's AP English
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
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.