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The AP Payoff: High school classes can pay for college

By Marcus Cederstrom on April 30th, 2007 • College, College & Career, Financial Aid, Going to college, School
Originally appeared in: Summer 2007

During my senior year of high school, I could have been out enjoying my time before real life set in. Instead I studied hard for Advanced Placement (AP) exams. You might think that's crazy, but it saved me $30,458 dollars in college tuition! You don't have to be a genius to take an AP class, but you'll feel like one when you earn college credit and save money--lots of it.

The Syllabus

The Advanced Placement system is not complicated. AP classes are offered at roughly 60 percent of high schools across the U.S. and the College Board (the same organization that administers the SAT) offers the AP exams. Here's how it works:

  • To get involved, you can register for an AP class offered by your high school or start your own individual study program. Then in May, you can take the AP test on that subject. Taking an AP class is not required before taking an AP exam, so students who don't have access to these classes aren't excluded from the opportunity to take the exams.
  • Most colleges and universities in the United States and Canada, as well as schools in 40 other countries, grant credit or placement for qualifying AP test scores. AP credit policies vary with each college, and even class by class, depending on your exam score. You can check out individual university and college policies at collegeboard.com/ap/creditpolicy.
  • There are 37 AP courses in 22 subjects, ranging from traditional topics like English Composition, U.S. History and Calculus to more specific areas like Microeconomics, Music Theory and Latin Literature. Today's full exam fee is $83 per test, but the College Board and many states help cover this cost. I only paid $50 for each of my tests.
The Extra Effort

AP courses are college-level classes and generally more demanding than your other high school classes. Most tests are two to three hours long and are graded on a five-point scale, with five being the highest. Scores are sent to colleges in July. If you received a not-so-hot score, you can request that it be withheld.
Even if you don't get college credit for these classes, they could boost your GPA. The AP class grade you receive in high school may be weighted, which means that an A in your AP class would be worth more grade points than an A in a regular class.

The Extra Credit

AP classes look great on your transcript as well. Whether you're going straight to a four-year school or attending a two-year community college first, AP classes and solid scores open a lot of academic doors by demonstrating your willingness to work and learn more.

The amount of money you can save with just a few of these classes is astounding. I was fortunate to attend a high school that offered more AP classes than most. Of the 14 classes offered, I completed five with a score of three or better. When I enrolled in college, I was given 36 credits, leaving me just short of sophomore standing.

Moving from home in Colorado to college in Oregon, my 36 credits translated into a huge savings. Out-of-state tuition would have cost me $853 per credit hour. With 36 credit hours earned, I knocked off $30,708 from my college tuition bills. Subtract the original $250 I paid to take the five tests at $50 each and I made $30,458! It was like being paid for going to high school.

The Bottom Line

Average annual tuition, plus room and board, for in-state students at a four-year public college or university is $12,605. That rises to $34,693 for a private school. Now imagine saving half that much by taking a few AP courses--that's good for your budget and your education.

Sources: collegeboard.com; princetonreview.com; census.gov; nsba.org

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