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How Does AP Credit Work? An Expert Guide

Dec 27, 2021

If you are here, you are probably wondering “how does AP credit work.” To your luck, we are here to tell you all about the same.

Irrespective of whether you are considering taking up AP classes, or already taking them, the working of AP college credit for college is crucial for you. From helping you skip introductory classes in college to getting your favorite course in your dream college, AP scores can come in handy in a lot of ways.


In today’s post, we will be telling you all about the same. Apart from explaining how AP credit works, you will also find out tips to improve your college credit in the post. So, without any delay, let us find out all about how colleges grant AP credit to students. Let the scrolling begin!

What Are AP Classes and AP Credit?

For anyone wondering what are AP classes , these are the classes that allow you to take some special courses in high school. The College Board runs these classes that provide intro-level college class experience. The subject options for these classes are plenty and range from mathematics and science to social studies and foreign languages and culture.


Once a student takes up an AP course, they attend AP classes, and then in May each year, they have to appear for an exam for the same. These exams can take place both at the school or at test centers. The score that you will earn in your AP exam can then be later used as AP credit for college. If you are wondering how this credit works, keep reading!

How to Earn AP Credit in High School?

How to earn college credit? Do AP classes count as college credit? If you are thinking of the same, know that taking AP classes of the course and then appearing for the exam is the only way to earn AP credit. So, AP classes do count as college credit, provided you appear for the AP exam in May and get a good AP Score in it.


Typically, almost all high schools offer a variety of AP courses. There are in total 38 of these courses, and if not all, your school may offer at least some of them. Out of all the AP exams, English Language and Composition is the most popular. While it is a good idea to take it if you are interested in it, you can take up any AP course as you like.

Further, you can even take up an AP exam if your school doesn’t offer it. This is because it is not necessary to take up AP classes to appear for the exam. You can prepare for the exam yourself too. Similarly, students who get homeschooled can self-study for the exam, and appear for it to earn AP credit in high school.


All the AP exams are scored from 1 to 5 which means that your AP score can be anything between these numbers. Here, one is the lowest score and AP score 5 is the highest. With a score of 4 and 5, you can easily get credit at most colleges. There are a few colleges out there that consider AP score 3 too.

How Does AP Credit Work for College?

Now that you know about AP classes, AP scores, and AP credit, let us move on to the most important question – “how does AP credit work?” Below, you can find all about it. Have a look:


AP Courses Can Get You Credit for Actual College Classes
The first way in which AP credit can work for college is as credit for real college classes. In simple words, here instead of taking a beginning course, your AP score in the subject related to it will count as that course. Therefore, you do not have to complete it. For instance, if you have a four on AP Chemistry, and you have to take Chemistry 101 in college, your AP score of 4 will replace it.

Due to this, you will get credit hours for Chemistry 101 as you took it during the AP course back in high school. As a result, you can easily enroll in an advanced class right away. To understand this in detail, let us take a look at the AP credit system at the University of Utah where they accept AP credit for numerous courses.


As per the rules of the University of Utah, they typically accept an AP score of 3 or higher for general education classes as well as some higher-level courses. The general education classes at this university mainly cover the following categories:
● Quantitative Reasoning,
● Fine Arts,
● Science,
● Social Science,
● Humanities, etc.
Now, if you took an AP class in high school for any of the subjects related to general education classes, you can skip it here. Another thing that you must note is that these general education classes mainly fill up the first year of college. Therefore, skipping them will AP credit means that you will be able to graduate from the University of Utah a year yearly.

For instance, if you had AP English Literature and AP Calculus AB, and you are studying the same in college, the credit from them can fulfill the college credit. You can therefore move on to the next class in the program, and thereby graduate early depending on your program. Due to this, if you are taking up multiple AP classes, make sure they have some variation.


Instead of taking up both classes for English, for one subject each in humanities, social science, science, math, etc. This way, you would have easily completed your generals in high school only. Another thing you must note is that while a university or school may accept an AP score of 3, there may always be the perks of getting a 4 or 5 in the exam.

AP Courses Can Allow You to Skip Intro Courses at College
Now, while some schools let students skip general education classes with AP credit, others do not offer the same. So, the second way in which AP credit can work for college is by allowing you to skip intro courses. However, with these, you will not be able to graduate early. In case you are confused, here is a better explanation.

Some universities and schools, especially if they are the competitive ones, instead of giving credit for AP classes, use the scores to place students in higher-level classes. These classes are for the freshman year only. So, they do not give students any credit that leads to early graduation. One such school is Dartmouth College.

As per their policy on AP credit, the AP classes are used to place students in higher-level classes only. The AP classes cannot have any graduation credit. As per the school, AP courses are not a true replacement for college-level classes. So, they want students to complete Dartmouth courses without missing any of the classes.

Now, let us tell you a little more about how this credit system works. Let us say that you have an AP score of 5 in AP Microeconomics. In such a case, instead of placing you in the general course, the college will place you in an intermediate or advanced economics course in freshman year. While you will be attending advanced classes right off the bat, there will be no credit for AP micro.

Therefore, while the previous credit system helps with earlier graduation, this does not. Instead, it will help you jump into higher classes. Also, with this system, you can fit in a minor or double major. Some schools also exempt students from foreign language requirements if they have a high AP score in the same.

AP Courses Can Help You Get Both College Credit and Skip Intro Courses

The final way in which AP credit can work for college is a mix of both the above AP credit policies. In such a case, at a university or school, some departments may allow the use of credit for real college courses while some may use it to skip intro courses. Let us tell you a bit more about it using the example of the Harvard university’s advanced standing program.

At Harvard, owing to this advanced standing program, students can easily skip freshman year and move forward to sophomore year at the beginning of college. Again, this is done using AP credits, and due to this, students can easily graduate in six or seven semesters instead of all eight.

Now, instead of the above, the university also allows students to use AP credits to get into higher-level classes for some departments. For some, they allow them to use the credits to get out of the foreign language requirement. If you choose this policy, you cannot apply for the advanced standing option and will have to graduate after staying for all four years.

You can choose as per your liking. If you want to graduate faster, choose the university’s advanced standing program. However, if you wish to explore different interests and take four years of undergraduate classes to graduate, the second option is for you.

Complete List of All AP Courses You Can Take

Now that you know the answer to – “how does AP credit work,” let us see what AP courses the College Board offers. In total, there are 38 AP classes that students can take. Their names are as follows:
1. AP Art and Design (formerly Studio Art): 2-D Design
2. AP Art and Design (formerly Studio Art): 3-D Design
3. AP Art and Design (formerly Studio Art): Drawing
4. AP Research
5. AP Seminar
6. AP Art History
7. AP Biology
8. AP Chemistry
9. AP Chinese Language and Culture
10. AP English Language and Composition
11. AP English Literature and Composition
12. AP Environmental Science
13. AP French Language and Culture
14. AP German Language and Culture
15. AP Human Geography
16. AP Italian Language and Culture
17. AP Japanese Language and Culture
18. AP Latin
19. AP Music Theory
20. AP Physics 1: Algebra-Based
21. AP Physics 2: Algebra-Based
22. AP Statistics
23. AP US History
24. AP World History: Modern
25. AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism
26. AP Physics C: Mechanics
27. AP Psychology
28. AP Calculus AB
29. AP Calculus BC
30. AP Computer Science A
31. AP Computer Science Principles
32. AP European History
33. AP Government and Politics (Comparative)
34. AP Government and Politics (US)
35. AP Macroeconomics
36. AP Microeconomics
37. AP Spanish Language and Culture
38. AP Spanish Literature and Culture

You can choose any of these depending on your interest, the courses you want to pursue in college, what classes your school offers, etc. Once you are done with the classes for a year, appear for the exam, and make sure to score the best in it to get complete benefit in college.

What AP Score Is Needed for Each AP Subject to Receive Credit?

Generally, colleges and universities prefer an AP score of 4 or 5. However, some schools do grant credit for a 3 AP score. It means that for all AP courses, to get the benefit out of them, you must get a 3+ score on the AP exam. Also, you need to know what score your dream school accepts for the course you want to pursue.
Here is a brief overview of whether or not an AP score can help you get credit. Have a look:

AP Score 5 (Extremely qualified)
This AP Score is equivalent to college course grade A and can get you AP credit in college.

AP Score 4 (Well qualified)
An AP score of 4 is equivalent to college course grades A-, B+, and B. This score can usually receive AP credit.

AP Score 3 (Qualified)
This AP Score is equivalent to college course grades B-, C+, and C. It may or may not help you receive AP credit.

AP Score 2 (Possibly qualified)
This AP Score is not equivalent to any college course grade, and may very rarely help you receive AP credit.

AP Score 1 (Not qualified)
An AP score of 1 is not equivalent to any college course grade. This score can never receive AP credit.

How to Find Out Which Colleges Accept AP Credit?

Now, while you may have a good AP score, not all colleges accept AP credit. Also, some colleges need a 4 or 5 score while others accept a 3 too. Therefore, it is crucial to find out which colleges accept AP credits and what are their policies related to them. Their AP credit policy is crucial as it will lay out for you the minimum score you will need to earn credit for an AP exam there.

Also, this policy will give you an insight into how credits are applied and the amount of credit awarded for a subject. As mentioned in the above sections, at some colleges, the AP score is used for credit hours while others use it to place students out of certain requirements rather than actual college credit.

An example of the latter is Brown University. Here, students cannot use AP scores for course credit. Instead, it is used to place them in upper-level classes. The College Board has an AP Credit Policy Search that you can use to know about all these policies. Depending on it, you can know what score you need to get in the AP exam and how the college will use it.

Apart from the College Board’s AP Credit Policy Search, here are two more ways to find out which colleges accept AP credit, and know about their colleges. Have a look:

  • You can call your desired college’s financial aid office and talk to the staff to find out if they accept AP credit.
  • You can discuss AP courses and college credits with your high school guidance counselor. Chances are, they will tell you all about if your desired college accepts AP credit, and what are the policies related to it.

How to Send Your AP Scores to College?

Once you appear for your AP exam, and your scores are out, you will have to send your official AP Score Report from the College Board to your desired college. Do you know how to do so? If not, we are here to help you out.
You can self-report your AP scores on your college applications once you have taken care of score withholding and cancellation. Also, along with this, it is important to send the official score report to cash in the AP credit. You can send this via the College Board.

Make sure to give the official report to the registrar’s office. Once they have it, you can readily use your AP score to apply them to the general education classes, prerequisites, and other departmental requirements at your college.

Final Thoughts: How to Study for AP Exams for AP Credit?

Now that you know all about how AP credit works, let us tell you how you can get the best AP score. After all, it is the only thing that will get you AP credit, and other benefits in college. Here is how to study for AP exams for the best score:
Make Sure to Know the AP Test Dates
Firstly, make sure you know the AP test schedule for the year. As per it, check if you have any tests on the same day or consecutive days, and prepare accordingly. It will also help you avoid any last-minute cramming, and lose unnecessary marks.

Come Up with A Study Plan
For your AP classes, you need to have a study plan to prepare for them. Make sure that this plan works around your schedule. It should leave you time for your regular studies and extracurriculars at school. Also, you should be able to stick to this study plan.

Complete All the Major Concepts by May
Once you have a study plan, make sure to complete your AP course content at least once by May – when the exams take place. Also, by that time, solve at least one practice exam for each AP test. This will ensure that you are not relying on last-minute studying that can risk your AP score and thereby AP credit for college.

Solve Practice Papers and Questions
As stated in the above step, once you complete the AP syllabus, you should solve practice tests. These will help you put your knowledge into practice and know where you stand in your preparation. You can find these tests on the College Board website easily.

Always Track Your Progress
When you solve a practice test, use it to track your progress. Once you are done with the test, analyze the mistakes you made. Then, work on these, and make sure you do not make them the next time.

Work on Your Weak Points
As per your progress, you will know what your weak areas are in the subject. Before the exam, work on these areas and try to master them. Along with this, do not ignore the easy parts too as they can be scoring.

Practice Time Management
On the test day, you have to follow the actual AP test time limit. During your preparation, make sure to keep this in mind, and prepare accordingly. The best way to practice time management is with the help of practice tests. When you solve them, try to complete them in the given time only. When this time ends, you should have not only completed your test but also rechecked your answers for mistakes.

Do Not Burn Yourself Out
While you do all that you can to get the best AP score, make sure to take care of your health too. Always eat healthily and stay hydrated. Also, to deal with the exam week stress even when you are prepared, you can do something fun occasionally. However, if you have started your preparation late, make sure to finish strong by the exam day, and avoid last-minute cramming. This way, you can get a high AP score, and thereby earn AP credit for college.
Good luck!



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