Many high school students choose to enroll in Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate courses because they believe that taking more rigorous courses will help them get into their top-choice universities. This is definitely true (though the student also needs to do very well in those rigorous courses to be a competitive applicant for the most selective campuses), but oftentimes high school students don’t even realize the full benefits of having taken AP courses and their corresponding exams until after they’ve begun college.

Depending on the score they receive on the AP exams, students can test out of a lot of general education requirements, saving themselves time and money. Many universities have math and writing requirements for all students, regardless of major, and a score of 3, 4, or 5 on the right AP Exams can help a student bypass some (or all) of those subject requirements, allowing him or her to dive right into the classes he or she is interested in.

For a science or engineering student, taking a course like AP Calculus can seem like a no-brainer. Clearly the student already has an aptitude for math and science and has probably been taking advanced math classes of all of his or her life. But by getting a high enough score on the AP Calculus exam, that student can satisfy a signficant portion of his or her major’s math requirements, making his or her time to degree that much faster. So many students are unable to complete their degrees in the standard four years because they can’t get enrolled into their required courses in time, so having some requirements taken care of before they even arrive on campus can help eliminate that problem.

But even for an English or fine arts student, the AP Calculus exam can be helpful. Oftentimes, students whose majors require zero science or math will still need to fulfill a math or science requirement for graduation and testing out of that requirement with a science or mathematics AP score can really help. Psychology and economics students are often required to complete statistics courses, so AP Statistics can be especially useful for them.

Of course, it’s important for students to play to their strengths. A book-worm who’s struggling in math shouldn’t take AP Stats or Calculus if it’s likely that he or she won’t get a good grade in the class or receive a passing score on the exam; he or she should stick to AP English Language instead. Similarly, stellar science students shouldn’t try to take AP US History if they don’t think they have a reasonable chance to excel. But college bound high school students should think seriously about all of the benefits of AP courses when choosing their course schedules each semester.

If college is a time to play to one strengths, high school is a time to explore (though college can also be a time to explore, of course). Math stars should take art classes and read The Great Gatsby and bookworms should embrace chemistry and advanced algebra. Everyone has areas where they naturally excel, but they also need to push themselves and move out of their comfort zones when reasonable.

Paul Thomson is an writer and frequent online contributor who is passionate about improving college readiness. He frequently writes about the AP Calculus and Great Gatsby. In his spare time, he loves to promote the joy of reading to youth in his community.

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