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AP Classes Provide Benefits for First-Generation College Students

First-generation students—those in the first generation of their families to go to college—often lack an understanding of many of the nuances of higher education. Even those who have consistently achieved high grades often find themselves academically unprepared for the rigors of college curriculums.

While first-generation college students can come from families from any background, approximately 50 percent are from low-income families and are more likely to be from a community underrepresented in advanced education.

Students, especially those whose family members haven’t experienced the college admissions process, don’t understand what college admission officers consider when reviewing applications. Educators can play a significant role in helping students, and their families grasp the factors that can make a difference.
Educators can explain, for example, that college admission officers are not impressed by straight As when they are all earned in easy courses. That they look for quality, not quantity, and give a lot of weight to advanced-level courses on an applicant’s transcript. Many colleges recalculate applicants’ grade point averages (GPAs), giving extra points for honors or AP courses.
Although many factors lead to college admission, The National Association of Counseling’s College Admission Counseling (NACAC) annual State of College Admissions survey consistently finds that student performance in college preparatory classes is the most important factor in the admission decision process.
With this in mind, educators can provide academic support and guidance by steering potential first-generation college students to enroll in honors and AP classes and let them know that advanced-level courses are worth the extra effort.


Several programs offered by The National Math and Science Initiative are designed to help administrators and educators ensure that they have the tools and resources to help first-generation students and their families succeed. For example, Building a Culture of Advanced Academics empowers and supports school leaders to cultivate and expand their AP programs. In addition, NMSI’s College Readiness Program enable schools to prepare students for college and life.

Here are a few ways taking AP classes can bolster a student’s college application and demonstrate that they can handle challenging coursework.

Arrive at College Better Prepared

AP classes are fast-paced, cover more material than regular classes and require independent work such as research and analysis, offering an intellectual stimulation that students won’t get in traditional high school courses. In addition, AP classes teach students to think critically, improve their problem-solving abilities and sharpen their writing skills.

In many cases, they are as rigorous as introductory college courses. As a result, it can be an excellent way to ease a student’s transition from a high school senior to a first-year college student making them better prepared to navigate the academic expectations they'll encounter in college.

Improve College Admission Chances

If a student does well in an AP class, it signals to admissions counselors that they are ready for the pressures of college study. In addition, many schools give extra weight to AP grades when calculating a student’s GPA. Therefore, taking an AP class and getting a B is often better than getting an A in a regular course.

Admissions counselors consistently report that good grades and academic rigor are two of the most critical factors when evaluating applications. Even more so than standardized test scores!

Earn College Credit

Taking an AP class is excellent preparation for acing the corresponding AP test. AP policies vary from school to school, but the majority of colleges in the US (as well as colleges and universities in 40 other countries) grant credit and accelerated placement for AP exams.

Win Scholarships and Save Money

AP courses and exam scores help students qualify for scholarships. According to The College Board, 31 percent of colleges and universities look at AP experience when making scholarship decisions. In addition, students with AP experience and credits are more likely to graduate from college in four years, eliminating the need for financing extra semesters (or years) to obtain a degree.

Administrators and educators can access tools to assist first-generation college students and all students on a path toward equitable education working with NMSI.