Are you ready for an online AP class?
Ask 3 Questions Before Enrolling in Online AP Courses
High schoolers should ensure they are comfortable learning in a virtual classroom.
By Sonya Ellis, Contributor |Aug. 14, 2017, at 9:00 a.m.
Students who are interested in taking AP courses online should check their top-choice colleges to see if the schools offer classes for high school students. (Peter Dazeley/ Getty Images)
Given the competitive nature of the college admissions process, students often look to Advanced Placement classes as a way to not only prepare for the rigors of college but to also give their transcripts a boost. However, students must take a variety of considerations into account when deciding which classes to complete and when.
One option – online AP courses – can offer freedom to students who are unable to take face-to-face AP classes. Students typically complete online AP courses in their free time. Both self-paced and session-based models exist, with the most popular AP classes – like AP Biology and AP U.S. History – offered more frequently and by more providers than courses like AP Music Theory.
Generally, busy or self-driven students or those who do not attend a high school with rich AP offerings are interested in online AP classes. For example, small high schools or high schools in rural locations typically cannot offer a robust range of AP courses. In such instances, motivated students may wisely turn to online AP classes.
However, these courses also come with their own challenges. Before enrolling in an online AP course, here three questions to consider.
1. Are you familiar with online courses and technology?
Many high school students who are considering an online AP class have never taken an online course before, which means they may not know what to expect. At the same time, these students are likely familiar and comfortable working with online resources.
One of the most important considerations to weigh before enrolling in an online AP course is how comfortable you feel learning in an online environment, since this experience can be radically different from classroom learning. For instance, will the AP course you're looking at be self-paced or session-based? Ask yourself how you feel about the thought of receiving instruction, submitting homework and conducting research online.
For students who struggle with troubleshooting technological issues, taking an online AP class could be challenging. Students who choose this route will need to remember to regularly save their work – and to create backups – to prevent loss in case of a crash. After all, no one wishes to rewrite a multi paragraph response to an AP English Literature and Composition prompt.
You should also be prepared to navigate issues between the AP platform of choice and your browser. Some learning platforms may require a specific web browser or video plugin to provide full functionality. If you aren't prepared to solve problems on your own, you may find yourself frustrated by compatibility issues.
2. What type of learning environment do you prefer?
Online AP environments have the advantage of seamless – and typically constant – access to course materials, and they also reduce paper waste. Keep in mind, though, that you do not have the ability to ask questions during a prerecorded video lecture in AP Biology or AP World History. You also will not have the advantage of face-to-face interaction with peers for clarification and other forms of support. If you enroll in an online AP class in a science field, you may perform labs at home or virtually.
If you are the type of student who tends to seek help from your instructors, you may find that you struggle in an online AP course, where help may only be available via email or a chat-based forum. In addition, many students prize group work as an opportunity to bounce their ideas off of peers and to likewise take in their classmates' unique perspectives. While this can be accomplished via other methods like discussion boards, it is often less direct in online AP courses. Before enrolling in an online AP class, consider whether these differences will impact your ability to succeed.
3. Do you have time in your schedule? If you do not have the luxury of working on online AP classes during the school day, such as during a study hall or as part of your school schedule, ensure that you can make time for them out of school. Also consider your workload and obligations before committing to online AP instruction.
Students with a heavy academic load should determine how much help they may need with the given AP subject matter – seeking out online resources to explain material you aren't fully understanding often takes more time than asking your teacher for assistance during or after an in-person AP class. Some students may also need external motivators to do their best.
Students with less challenging academic loads but a wealth of extracurricular activities may find themselves in a similar situation to those with heavy academic loads. Can you afford to attend your usual classes, see to extracurriculars after school and then focus on online AP courses in the evenings or on weekends?
If you choose to enroll in an online AP course, make sure to check if your top-choice colleges have online AP programs for high schoolers, such as Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth. These can be a great way to begin a relationship with the institution.
Sonya Ellis , a tutor and contributing writer with Varsity Tutors, has a bachelor's degree in English from Rice University and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from the University of California—Irvine. She specializes in test preparation for the SAT and ACT, Advanced Placement language and literature