5 Ways Advanced Placement (AP) Exams Can Cut College Costs

I-Love-APThe Advanced Placement (AP) program, offered by the College Board, allows ambitious high school students to take college-level exams each May that potentially qualify them for college credit at the college of their choice. Each college lists the AP exams and credit they will award for a passing score on their website. Just search for “AP credit” or “equivalency exam credit” on the college’s site.

Our daughter, Kayte, took 5 AP exams during high school and earned high marks on each. The University of Pittsburgh awarded her 24 credits for her efforts at no cost. Here is the break down of what she did:

Exam Grade Score* Credits   Awarded by Pitt No. of   classes eliminated
AP U.S.   History  10th

5

6

2

AP   European History 11th

5

6

2

AP   Psychology 12th

5

3

1

AP   French 12th

4

3

1

AP   English Literature 12th

5

6

2

*5 is the highest score possible.

Here are five ways the time she invested in preparing for those exams during high school reduced her college costs:

1. The value of those 24 credits at the University of Pittsburgh saved her at least 2/3rd of a year in tuition costs (approx. $12,000 at the time) and all the costs of the required texts for those courses.

2. The 24 credits eliminated almost a full year of the time necessary to complete her degree — time she could then use to earn an income.

3. The credits awarded gave her “sophomore” standing in mathematics (one of her majors) and “junior” standing in French (her other major). This meant she got to register for her classes much earlier than other freshman. This meant she ALWAYS got the required courses she needed the very first semester she was eligible to register for them. (A big reason most students today need 5 years to complete a 4-year degree is they cannot get into required courses when they need them.)

4. Kayte’s high performance on these AP exams qualified her for the honors college at the University of Pittsburgh. This then included many free perks, including preferential housing close to campus. (Safe, affordable housing is in short supply at Pitt.)

5. Finally, Kayte’s high performance and evidence of a willingness to academically challenge herself with the most rigorous coursework available in high school earned her a full tuition, 5-year scholarship worth approximately $75,000 at the time. (She double majored and finished in 4 years anyway.) High AP scores are often the most decisive factor in a college’s decision to offer merit scholarships to homeschooled students. AP scores are viewed as an objective measure of a student’s achievement, ambition and readiness for college-level rigor.

Kayte used the AP classes offered by Pennsylvania Homeschoolers  to prepare for these exams. The cost of those classes was money well spent when you think about how much time and money Kayte saved.

Taking AP classes is not required. Anyone can sit for the AP exams in May — students just have to sign up with a local test center (usually a local private or public high school) and pay the fees. But research shows that taking classes aligned with the AP exams substantially improves a student’s success on these exams.

Based on my daughter’s experience, I started Aim Academy. We offer coursework beginning in 7th grade that is aligned with AP exams. My rationale is students who have been gradually preparing for these rigorous exams over their entire middle school and high school years will be much better prepared to earn the highest scores possible when they take an AP exam. So far, that rationale appears to be working for the many parents and students who report better than expected success on the exams they have taken. And Kayte — now Kathryn Gomes — is offering her own college-prep coursework in mathematics through AIM to help the next generation of homeschooled students realize the time and savings she did.

P.S. I should mention the #1 advantage to all the hard work Kayte put in during high school, according to Kayte: She was able to study abroad for three semesters and one summer at a reasonable cost, and still graduate on time. (Pitt allows students to apply their scholarship monies to these ventures.) Kayte studied in Provence, France; Cairo, Egypt; and sailed around the world with Semester-At-Sea, docking in 10 different countries along the way.

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