College, at least at face value, is expensive. But as I alluded to earlier, there are effective ways to reduce this cost. One of them is acquiring college credits through AP Exams. I graduated an entire year early with a degree in electrical and computer engineering because I didn't succumb to senioritis. Don't sabotage this opportunity!

What are AP Exams

I assume most of you know what these are, but for clarity: they're approximately 30 exams offered once a year in a two week period in the beginning of May in a wide range of subjects spanning English, foreign language, social studies, mathematics, and the sciences. You get a score from 1 to 5, and many colleges will award you course credit if you do well enough on the exam (typically requiring a 4 or 5).

How Did AP Exams Help Me Graduate a Year Early?

I took 13 AP exams: Physics C: Mechanics, Physics C: Electricity & Magnetism, Biology, Chemistry, Computer Science A, Computer Science AB (no longer offered), Calculus BC, Statistics, Microeconomics, Macroeconomics, World History, US Government, English Language and Composition. Of these, I was awarded course credit by my university for all of them except Computer Science A (since I also took the AB exam[1]) and World History. All in all, this gave me 32 college credits right out of the gate freshman year.

What If I Had Senioritis?

Let's say my senioritis was really bad and I did poorly enough on all my AP Exams senior year that I didn't receive college credit for any of them. Then I'd have failed 7 AP Exams: the two physics exams, the two economics exams, computer science AB (though I still had the credit for computer science A), English language and composition, and statistics. That would have set me back at least a semester, if not a full year.

But that's not even the worst of it. The key classes that I took senior year were ones that actually had no AP exam: multivariable calculus (equivalent to calculus III at most colleges) and differential equations. Nominally the schedule called for multivariable calculus (MVC) the first semester and differential equations the second semester, but our teacher took it slowly to make sure we understood the material, so we finished MVC sometime around March. When I got to college, I took a placement test before classes started and was awarded credit for MVC. This really opened the doors to take more advanced classes my freshman year because MVC was a prerequisite for several science and engineering classes. I took differential equations my first semester, and the first third of that class was a breeze thanks to my high school class.

Depending on the curriculum of your intended field of study, getting college credit before starting at your university, whether it's through AP exams, CLEP exams, or dual enrollment, can have a compounding effect: sometimes these introductory courses are prerequisites for mutliple higher level classes, blocking you from them. By starting with these credits right out of the gate, you open a lot more doors.

But My School Doesn't Offer AP Classes

I recognize that some people live in a school district where very few AP classes are offered, let alone multivariable calculus or differential equations. As previously mentioned, dual enrollment programs are one option.

Another option is to study for the AP exam on your own. I'm not saying it will be easy to do that on top of your other schoolwork, but it can be done. I knew a crazy guy in high school that took almost all the AP exams (he was a couple exams short, and he definitely didn't take all the corresponding high school classes).

I know you high school seniors want to relax after getting that college acceptance letter, but you can be handsomely rewarded if you wait until summer. High school classes are free; college classes cost thousands of dollars.

  1. The reason I took both exams was at my high school there were two separate levels of computer programming classes that prepared you for the Comp Sci A and AB exams, respectively. I took the AP Comp Sci A exam junior year so that it would show up on my application when applying for college ↩︎