College Series : AP, IB, and College Credit Questions.

AP Classes and IB classes are very important for every high school student planning to continue with their education. I'm going to go over AP questions and talk a little bit about IB, from my own experience. If you have any other questions about college, you're in luck, because I'm doing a series on college-- from picking colleges, handling visits, dealing with admissions, dealing with your roommate, and more! Just drop me a comment on any of my college series posts (including this one!). For the sake of clarification, advanced courses refers to classes that are AP, IB, or dual enrollment.

Is it better to go for a high GPA or AP/IB classes?
It is much more important to take advanced classes than it is to get the perfect GPA. Granted, you want to have both, but not all 4.0s are created equal, and every admissions officer knows that. A kid who has a 4.0 but didn't take any honors or advanced classes looks much less appealing than a kid who has a 3.7 but took many advanced courses and honors courses. In addition, most school districts offer a grade boost for advanced courses to better reflect the level of work of advanced courses compared to regular ones. Advanced courses tell admissions officers lots of great things about a student:
  • This kid takes her/his education seriously.
  • This kid knows the level of work that a college is going to put on them and is handling it.
  • This kid challenges herself/himself.
Even if you don't get credit at the college you end up going to for the advanced course you take, it makes a huge difference as to whether or not you get in to a school. They also cut you more slack for certain courses like advanced math and science courses, which generally are very challenging and typically aren't as easy to get a good grade in compared to an AP English class.

My school doesn't offer very many advanced courses, but I know other schools offer a ton! Does this place me at a huge disadvantage in the admissions process?
Colleges will typically have a way of evening this out, because they know that the courses available at each high school varies widely. Usually they compare you to the rest of your school for this reason. To get in to William and Mary, I took 8 AP courses, and I came from a high school where taking 4 AP courses was sort of a minimum for kids who wanted to go to college (and by that I mean pretty much everyone where I come from). My friend from Kentucky, attended a high school where there were far fewer AP courses available and took 2. We both got in to William and Mary, where students who get in typically graduated high school with a 4.0. So, challenge yourself, try to push yourself, and know that the admissions officers try to look at you in terms of your peers.

How much does AP/IB help in terms of college credits?
This depends from school to school. To find out what you need to score on AP tests and how transfer credits work, check the online course catalogue that is often a PDF on your college's website, or sometimes has its own page in the admissions section of the school site. If you are currently looking at schools, you may want to look that up ahead of time. It may help you with course selection, or give you some idea of what your options are. There will be a listing of AP courses that they accept, the credit or exemption you get, and the score you need to get in order to attain the credit or exemption. I have heard that IB is harder to get credit for in the US. It is much more helpful if you are studying abroad, but at US schools, you need to get higher scores and know more than AP students in order to get the same credits, typically. However, you shouldn't decide not to take IB classes if your school is IB just because it will be harder to get credit. As I mentioned earlier, your course selection is more important than your GPA. Take those advanced courses!

What is the difference between getting credit and getting an exemption?
There are three things that taking a class at a college will get you: a grade, credit, and exemption. When they calculate your GPA, your grades get weighted by credit amount. The number of credits a course is worth is typically determined by the level of difficulty or time commitment. Credits are also called credit hours because they are supposed to be proportional to time commitment. Most classes at William and Mary are 3 credit classes. Something particularly difficult or with a lot of writing might be 4 credits, and things like chorus, violin lessons, acting, and art classes are 1 or 2 credits. In addition, you need to register for a certain number of credits per semester to be considered a full-time (rather than part-time) student, and there are a minimum number of credits you need to complete to graduate. This is where getting college credit from advanced courses comes into play. I graduated high school with enough credits to equate to a whole semester. However, receiving credit for a class will not get you a grade. This means if you got a score on the AP exam high enough to get you college credit in Calculus, but you got a C in your Calculus class, that C will not carry with you to your college transcript or GPA. You simply have the credit, no number attached. When I came to college, I had 15 credits, but no GPA. Exemptions can come without getting college credit. It is one level under getting credit. Some courses, particularly higher level courses, will require pre-requisites. You need to take introductory courses in order to register for higher level classes in some cases, like with math. You can't take Calc II until you've taken Calc I-- or gotten an exemption. Basically it means you know the material, though not necessarily well enough by the school's standards to get college credit-- which has exemption built in as if you'd taken the class without getting graded-- but enough to be able to skip Calc I (or whatever the case may be) and continue on to the next level class that lists Calc I as a prereq.
In summary:
  • Grades - only come with taking a course at college
  • Credit - counts toward your total credit hours, and can help you graduate earlier. In addition it will get you exempted from the equivalent class.
  • Exemption - is one level under credit. It won't get you credit hours, but it will get you out of taking a class you already know the material for so you can take the next one in the line up.

Can I take AP tests if I am not in an AP class?
YES. Many people don't know this, but even if you're at an IB school, even if your school doesn't offer and AP course, and even if you're not enrolled in any related class, you can take an AP test! You have to find your own ride to a testing location (a school that offers the course you're testing in), and you will have to pay for your own test, but you can study on your own, take a test, have the score reported, and get credit based on your AP test score even if you aren't taking that class at your school. Some people do this because their school doesn't offer something they are interested in and are willing to study and get credit for it. Some people do it because they go to an IB school and want to take the AP test along with the IB Test in hopes that they'll score well on the AP exam (as I mentioned, it is often harder to get credit through IB exam than AP exams). You can study on your own by purchasing your own AP Study Guide book (I prefer the Princeton Review AP Study books) and register for the exam through your school's testing coordinator. It takes some doing, but if you're determined to get the credit, you can!

Well, that's our segment today on Advanced Courses.

This is a part of my College Series. If you have any questions regarding college, dorm life, admissions, test strategies, course selection, essays, health, services, how to pick the right college for you, fact from fiction about college, etc. please comment below or email me you questions at I will also answer questions about William and Mary specifically, because that is the school I go to.



  1. What AP Courses did you take in high school?

    1. I took AP World History, AP Lang and Comp, AP Psych, AP US History, AP Lit, AP Spanish, AP Gov, and AP Calculus AB.

    2. Did you get 4/5's on all of the exams? I'm taking an AP right now and stressing about getting a 4 or 5. Should I be extreamly worried?

    3. No. I got a 4 or 5 on most everything except Calculus AB which I got a 3 on.

      BUT don't worry TOO much. Getting credit is not the be-all-end-all. You can get credit through studying abroad over summers, taking summer courses, and even from internships if you work it out with your school in advance.

      In addition, I hadn't pressured myself too hard on getting a 4 or 5 in either Spanish or Calc. I had done enough years of Spanish to meet the foreign language requirement, and since I wasn't planning on majoring in Spanish, geting the credit wasn't a huge deal to me. Calc I expected to get a 2 or 3, but I had talked to some people at W&M and they told me that it is better to retake Calc in college and get a firm handle on it, than to try to cram for the exam, get a high grade as a product of cramming-- not actual mastery of the content-- and then try to go on to the next level and do terribly.

      My getting a 4 on the Spanish Exam was a fluke in my opinion. I think it may have been a particularly hard exam that year, and they grade based on the scores of everyone, not on the point total itself.

      Don't stress out-- it makes it harder. If you study, you should be fine by all accounts. And know that your 100% is just that.

      You may want to check out the transfer credit policy of your college to see how high you need to get to get credit at each college. Some places say you need a 5, others a 4 and others still a 3, and it depends from subject to subject.

    4. Thank you for your detailed answer :)

      For me, it's not much of getting the credit but looking bad to a college. I'm just afraid that if I get a three, or even a two, it'll ruin my college apps.

    5. Don't worry about that so much. Typically, they take your grade in the class more seriously since it's very difficult to really compare you fairly across all students taking that AP exam. They take both your score and your in-class grade into account, but your in-class grade is usually considered a little bit better of an indicator. The AP exam is one test where you are graded against people from all different schools and backgrounds, where as your in-class grade indicates how well you met your teacher's rules and expectations, and how well you did over time.

      Depending on the exam, threes and even twos are not that bad. Threes and twos are common, for example, foreign language exams. I'd ask your teacher what their students' AP scores typically look like. (Mostly twos? Mostly fives? Mostly threes and fours?) This gives you a good idea of what score you should try to meet.

  2. what do you think , go to college or finish high school and take ib ? which one is easier for the university to accept

    1. Hmmm.... I think I don't quite understand your question-- probably because of international differences.

      In the US (where I live) University and College are equivalent, although they have different connotations in focus.

      I would say in general, always finish high school taking as many advanced courses as you can handle. From there you can apply to colleges and universities and choose university or college.

      However, if this is not the case in the country that you are from, talk to your guidance counselor, or a teacher about your options.