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The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: What to Know About Advanced Placement 

Written by: Julie Glusker, Director of College Counseling

Many roads lead to college, but for US Performance Academy student athletes, the road is paved with perseverance and performance in sport and school. The road is also paved with a strong plan of study, and our USPA Student Success Coordinator and Learning Coach team advise students and families on how to choose a relevant and compelling curriculum along the way. A key decision students face in planning their high school coursework is whether or not to take Advanced Placement (AP) courses. This decision is easy when the student has the right motivation and information. Many students and parents believe APs are necessary for a competitive college profile and college acceptances, but USPA recommends a considered and balanced approach when selecting Advanced Placement courses. To ensure our student athletes do not stumble on the road to college and can succeed in AP courses, we require an AP application and verification process as well as recommend no more than two AP courses simultaneously or annually.


Taking APs can significantly enhance and deepen a student’s learning and interest in a specific subject. If a student is passionate about or has innate aptitude in math or biology or writing (for example), they should consider taking an AP in that subject area.

AP teachers are extremely passionate about and committed to their subject areas and have strong backgrounds, experience and credentials in their subjects.

AP courses are well-structured, so the syllabus is organized and consistent.  Because AP content targets performing well on an end of year exam, the assignments and content are well prepared and planned.  This consistency is a good fit for busy but motivated students.

APs can enhance and bolster a student’s  transcript and college profile; colleges will see that the student is driven, dedicated and willing to take on academic challenge and rigor.

To excel or do well in an AP course, a student must demonstrate or develop discipline and work ethic.  These skills are good preparation for college level work.

Some colleges will grant credit for good AP scores (usually for scores of 4 or 5).


APs are more “labor intensive” and require more hours and deeper understanding of subjects and coursework. In addition to rising to the challenge of college level work, students must keep pace with the class to adequately prepare for the exam. Catching up in an AP is extremely difficult.

Only specific AP courses are worth their weight in effort. These “core AP'' classes are the ones colleges prefer to see on a transcript; the others are often considered “satellite” or secondary AP courses.  The core includes AP English Language and Composition, AP English Literature, AP Calc AB, AP Calc BC, AP Bio, AP Chem, AP Physics, AP (plug in any world language), AP World History, and AP US History.  The many other AP offerings, such as AP Human Geography, AP Music, AP Studio Art, AP Photography, AP Art History, just to name a few, are sometimes considered “filler APs” by selective colleges.  Please note: USPA has chosen to offer AP Environmental Science, AP Psychology, and AP Statistics because we believe these selective APs are excellent preparation for college bound student athletes.

AP courses do not always lead to college credit; many selective colleges do not accept AP credits; no credit is awarded and no college tuition is offset or saved.


AP exams are expensive ($95 per course) - and the exam can ignite undue or excessive stress for students.

Students sometimes take APs because they think they HAVE to, not because they WANT to; this  pressure leads to academic resentment and frustration.

AP courses are sometimes a way for students or families to strive to compete with peers or keep up with values different from their own.

We hope that as our USPA students select their curriculum, they will consider the benefits, drawbacks and pitfalls of Advanced Placement courses. We are always available to help our student athletes and families navigate these important decisions.

Julie is the Director of School for USPA. She has 14 years of experience counseling students in college applications and course selections.