For those of you who are unfamiliar with the College Board’s Advanced Placement program, let me describe it for you as briefly as I can. Advanced Placement exams are given during the first two weeks of May every year, usually by high schools offering the corresponding Advanced Placement course. The courses and exams are designed by the College Board, which will “audit” a high school’s offering and then bless it with the right to call it “AP.” The subject matter ranges from physics to Latin, so schools don’t offer every single option. There are some APs that are more popular than others, such as English Language and U.S. History, and some that are a little more obscure, like Physics C: Mechanics.
The point of the AP program is to demonstrate college-level learning. There are other programs out there (the International Baccaulaureate, early college programs, and dual-enrollment options, for example), but the AP program is used by many colleges to allow students to earn advanced standing. Sometimes this means actual credits that you don’t have to pay for, but more often than not, it just means that you can skip some intro-level coursework, which is still helpful.
Most important, the AP program is a useful way to demonstrate to colleges that you are willing to challenge yourself, and it is also a way to compete against advanced high schoolers around the country in subject-specific areas. The SAT and ACT are broad tests where the exam boils down to how well “prepped” you are. Many students don’t have the time or the funds to dedicate to specialized test-prep classes, meaning that affluent students have a better shot at doing well on those exams. AP courses, however, are available to many students in public schools around the country, and your ability to do well has to do with how well you master the content. The math and science exams require problem-solving, and the social studies and English exams require essays. The foreign language exams require true comprehension.
So both my high schoolers are taking two AP classes this year. Both are studying U.S. Government, which is widely available as a course. Since they are enrolled in our state virtual charter school, they need to find a brick-and-mortar high school where they can sit for the exam with that school’s other students. U.S. Government will be an easy exam for me to find. I will choose a convenient high school campus, contact the AP coordinator, and sign them up. The exam is usually about $90, which I think is scandalous, given the fact that many students of modest means will be taking this class in public school. My son, for example, took thirteen AP exams over the course of high school. Do the math–that’s a lot of money. But he did it because he was homeschooled until he entered the virtual charter school, and wanted to make sure that no one would hold his homeschooled background against him.
One of my high schoolers is taking AP Psychology, and I think I’ve found that one at a local private school. But the big problem is AP Human Geography, which my other high schooler is taking. Human Geography is a bit of a strange course, but it’s historically been the “entry-level” AP option. There are no prerequisites, and it’s a good way to segue into AP World History later. “Human” geography is about the human element, so this isn’t a course based on latitude and longitude and physical characteristics of land. It’s about using geography as an organizing principle for the human experience.
I didn’t think it would be such a big deal to find a place to sit for the exam, but so far the only school I’ve found that offers it is an hour away. I could go into the next state but that would still be at least an hour away! So let this serve as your reminder…if you are taking any online courses or if you are self-studying for AP exams, you should start searching for a test site!
Photo credit: Amanda Munoz