The Pros and Cons of Taking AP Classes in High School

Advanced Placement (AP) classes are a fantastic way to show academic rigor in your schedule and impress college admissions officers. AP classes offer more of a challenge than a general or core class. They’re often considered difficult but rewarding by students who take them.

But with every benefit, there is a drawback. What are the pros and cons of taking AP classes? We’ll break it down for you below:

A red push door in a high school, opening up to a hallway with lockers.

Pros of Taking AP Classes:

Academic Rigor

The bare minimum tends not to impress colleges, especially elite ones. Academic rigor is a way for a student to prove they are up to the challenge of higher education, by adding additional difficulty to their high school schedules. The most common way of adding rigor is by taking AP classes. Rigor is, in many ways, just as important as the overall GPA of a student–though a balance between the two is ideal.

AP students must go above and beyond in their efforts to study and perform well. The material will be more demanding, there will be more reading, and the grading will be harder. As such, AP classes are on a different scale than that of general classes. Where the 4.0 GPA is standard, many AP classes grade on a 5.0 scale, and some colleges will take that into consideration while reviewing a student’s application.

Grants and Scholarships

Your grades, test scores, and class rankings can lead to additional scholarship opportunities for students looking for financial aid. Many scholarships and grants have qualifications that require a certain ACT/SAT score or GPA, and some even look for proof of academic excellence and rigor. AP classes are a great way to secure some extra aid.

Majors and Minors

Since AP classes are more in-depth than their general counterparts, they provide a closer look into the subject. If a student is interested in Biology, for example, a general biology course would be a mere overview in comparison to taking an AP Bio class, which would have greater focus and attention to detail–it would be a better look into a Biology major/minor or what college courses would be like.

Cons of Taking AP Classes:


Of course, with challenge comes struggle. With a more intense workload, some students become overwhelmed and their grades start to suffer–both in the AP class or in the other general courses. It is important to balance out your schedule so the difficulty isn’t concentrated. If you’re interested in AP courses, aim for 2-3 per year–not per semester.

Though it is important to note that grading is a little different in an AP class. B’s in AP classes are not the same as B’s in a general course. Since AP classes are more difficult, a B is held in higher regard–and colleges know that. Still, AP courses can make their way to a college transcript. You’ll want to strive for the best grade possible.

Test Payment

While the courses themselves might be free, the tests are not. In 2016, the fee per exam is $92 (though families with low-income can have the amount reduced by $30 courtesy of the College Board). If a student is taking multiple AP classes, that bill can rack up pretty quickly. The cost of the AP exam can put additional pressure on the student taking it as well.

Differing Colleges

No two colleges are the same. Therefore, no two colleges will take AP classes and exams into consideration quite the same way either. Some will hold the rigor in higher regard than others. Others might be more forgiving of a lower grade in an AP class, others might not. Some will bring the 5.0 scale into consideration, others won’t. It all depends on the college itself, which can be frustrating to a student that has worked incredibly hard in the course.

So whether or not to take AP classes really depends on the individual student. Interested in taking a class or two? Talk to your high school counselor about the opportunities available at your school and what it could mean for your college admittance odds.

Want to see how your GPA and ACT/SAT scores affect your odds of getting into a school you’re looking at? Enter your information into our college match tool and see for yourself! While you’re there, check out what financial aid that college and others can offer.