Between worrying if you have enough extracurricular activities on your resume and trying to find a school that's right for you, it probably seems like preparing for college couldn't be any harder. To get ahead, some students choose to take high school classes that allow them to receive college credit through the Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs.
The Advanced Placement (AP) program gives students the opportunity to take courses that focus on a given body of material, such as European History or Chemistry. The College Board, which started the AP program, outlines how students will be tested on the information: through multiple choice questions, short answers or essays. Each spring, the College Board administers standardized tests in classrooms across the nation, and students' scores on these tests may qualify them to gain college credit for that class.
The International Baccalaureate (IB) program is similar to the AP program, although as the title suggests, it is available to students worldwide. Also, the IB program is set up for students in three age groups: 3 to 12, 11 to 16 and 16 to 19. The last group takes the Diploma Program, which enables them to earn college course credit.
Why take on the extra stress of harder classes? Earning college credit during high school can be beneficial both academically and financially. Many colleges see AP credit as a way to separate good students from stellar ones. If they see that students have gone out of their way to challenge themselves, they may be impressed, and thus be more likely to grant those students acceptance to selective colleges and universities. Also, gaining college credit early on could mean you don't have to take introductory courses in some subjects and can skip right to the more in-depth classes. Ultimately, this might allow for early graduation - a good deal as college gets more expensive each year.
Unless you score well on the final exam, you can't earn that credit, which is why it's important to be well prepared for the test. Certainly your AP and IB teachers will do everything they can to get you ready, but there are also steps you can take yourself. Any large bookseller like Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble or Borders will sell official AP study guides in every subject. These usually have summaries of the information you will be expected to know, in addition to practice tests. Also, the College Board releases previous years' exams every few years so that students can have an idea of what to expect. The International Baccalaureate also sells examination papers from past years and course companions, available online.
Here are some helpful Web sites that will help you learn more about these programs and prepare for the exams.
The College Board
Read about the AP program and exams, and find out how to register. Use the menu on the left to choose a subject that interests you to download the course description and sample questions and to see frequently asked questions. Visit the College Board store to buy study manuals.