The Complete Guide to Using Advanced Placement to get into Top US & UK Universities

18/06/202415 minute read
The Complete Guide to Using Advanced Placement to get into Top US & UK Universities

When it comes to achieving academic excellence and gaining admission to top universities worldwide, Crimson Global Academy (CGA) is known as the leader in online education. CGA students have consistently earned places at top universities worldwide such as Ivy League schools, Oxford, and Cambridge. One of the key strategies contributing to their success is the effective use of Advanced Placement (AP) courses. These college-level classes, offered in high school, can increase a students' academic profile, provide opportunities for college credit, and even help them graduate early.

Students at CGA have an impressive track record of success with AP exams. In the most recent exam cycle, 86% of CGA students scored an incredible 3 or higher on their AP exams. Here in this blog we’ll explore how AP courses can be an important part of a student's university admissions success and help guide them to choosing the appropriate courses for their future career goals.

What are Advanced Placement Courses?

Advanced Placement (AP) courses are college-level classes offered in high school. They are developed by the College Board, which also administers the SAT. These courses are rigorous and designed to give students a taste of college-level academics while still in high school. But why do students take AP courses to achieve college success?

AP courses and strong AP test scores can offer a significant advantage for students applying to universities in the US, particularly for those aiming for the Ivy League or similarly competitive institutions. Successful completion of AP exams can earn students college credit, advanced placement in university courses, or both. It’s no wonder students take AP’s to improve their overall university portfolio, and at CGA students can take as little or as many AP’s as they like - with the right guidance of course.

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Benefits of Taking Online AP Courses

Credits and Cost Savings

It’s no secret that attending a prestigious university like Oxford, Stanford, or Princeton can come with a heavy price tag. One of the benefits of students taking AP courses is the potential to earn college credits. Studying an AP course can allow students to put forward their college credit to skip introductory courses in university.

According to Harvard's tuition fee rates, skipping one course can save you up to $7000! Not only can AP’s potentially reduce tuition costs, but they can also allow students to graduate early.

Academic Extension

AP courses provide challenging material that extends beyond the standard high school curriculum. This prepares students for the rigours of university academics and can strengthen their applications by showcasing their ability to handle difficult coursework.

For instance, taking an AP course in a subject like calculus or biology can give students a head start in understanding complex topics they'll encounter in college, ensuring they're well-prepared for advanced studies.

University Admissions

Top universities in the US and UK recognize the value of AP courses. They look favourably on students who have demonstrated academic ambition and success through AP exams. Admissions officers at institutions like Harvard, Cambridge, and Yale often see AP courses as evidence of a student's readiness for the challenges of university-level work. Excelling in these courses can increasingly enhance a student's application, potentially increasing their chances of acceptance into their desired programs.

Skill Development

Outside of academics, AP courses help students develop essential skills such as critical thinking, time management, and independent study habits. These skills are invaluable not just for university but for life after academia. Managing the workload of multiple AP courses can teach students how to prioritise tasks and manage their time effectively, important soft skills that can help them through all walks of life.

Flexibility and Accessibility

Online AP courses offer the flexibility to study at your own pace and on your own schedule. This can be particularly beneficial for students who have other commitments, such as part-time jobs, extracurricular activities, or family responsibilities.

The accessibility of online courses means that students from anywhere in the world can enrol and benefit from a high-quality education without the need to relocate or commute. For instance, a student living in a rural area with limited access to advanced coursework can still take AP classes online, ensuring they receive the same opportunities as their peers in more urban settings.

Which Factors Affect Your AP strategy?

Curriculum: The number and type of AP courses you take can depend on your current curriculum. Whether you are studying IB, A-Level, or the US Diploma, integrating AP courses can complement your education. For example, if you're pursuing an A-Level curriculum, adding AP courses in subjects like calculus or history can provide a broader academic experience and demonstrate your versatility to universities.

Grade Level: It's important to plan when to start taking AP courses. Some students begin as early as year 10, while others may wait until year 11. Starting early can give you more time to spread out the workload and manage your studies effectively. For instance, taking AP Biology in year 10 and AP Chemistry in year 11 can help balance your academic schedule and reduce stress during your final year.

University Destination: The country and specific universities you are targeting will influence your AP strategy. US universities might value a different set of AP courses compared to UK universities. If you're aiming for a top US university, AP courses in STEM subjects might be highly regarded, while UK universities might prioritise AP courses that align with your intended field of study. It's important to conduct research on your desired university to ensure you align your goals for maximised benefit.

University Requirements: Each university has its own AP credit policy. Researching these policies can help you decide which and how many AP courses to take. For instance, some universities might grant credit for scores of 4 or 5 on AP exams, allowing you to skip introductory courses and save on tuition costs. Knowing these details can help you make informed decisions about which AP courses to prioritise based on your university goals.

Why do AP Exams Matter More Than Ever?

Hear from CGA's Co-Founder, Dr Jamie Beaton on the importance of taking AP subjects for high school students.

Your AP Academic Breakdown

How many APs should I take with the IB, A-Level, or US Diploma curriculum?

This depends on your academic strengths and university goals. Generally, 3-5 AP courses can provide a robust academic profile. For example, if you are strong in sciences, you might consider taking AP courses in Biology, Chemistry, and Physics alongside your IB or A-Level studies to showcase your expertise.

At which grade should I start taking APs?

Starting in Year 10 can give you ample time to complete multiple AP courses and improve your scores if necessary. This early start allows you to manage your workload effectively and build a strong academic record over several years.

How many APs should I take to study in the US or UK?

For US universities, 3-5 AP courses are often recommended. UK universities might focus more on your A-Level results, but strong AP scores can still enhance your application. For instance, AP courses in subjects relevant to your intended field of study can demonstrate your academic depth and readiness.

How many APs do I need for Ivy League colleges?

Ivy League schools are highly competitive. Successful applicants often have 5-8 AP courses, demonstrating their ability to handle college-level work. Taking a range of AP courses in different subjects can highlight your versatility and preparedness for the rigorous academic environment of Ivy League institutions.

US HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAMinimum 3 APs4-8 AP's depending on student profileMinimum 5 APs to qualify for admissions
A LEVELS/ IB2-3 APs3-5 APs depending on student profileNo minimum requirements. Oxbridge: 2-3 APs recommended
LOCAL CURRICULUMMinimum 3 APs: 1 Mathematics 1 English Language3-8 APs depending on student profileMinimum 5 APs to qualify for admissions

How to Choose Your AP Subjects

Which are the easiest?

Subjects like AP Psychology, AP Environmental Science, and AP Human Geography are often considered less challenging. These courses are typically more accessible because they require less prior knowledge and focus more on understanding broad concepts rather than intensive technical skills. They can be a great choice if you want to increase your overall score and balance a heavy course load.

Which have prerequisites?

Courses like AP Calculus, AP Physics, and AP Chemistry may require prior knowledge in related subjects. For example, before taking AP Calculus, you should be comfortable with precalculus concepts. Similarly, AP Physics and AP Chemistry often expect students to have a solid foundation in introductory physics and chemistry. It's important to plan your course sequence to ensure you meet these prerequisites in time.

Which relate to your chosen field of study?

If you're aiming for a STEM degree, consider AP Calculus, AP Biology, AP Chemistry, and AP Physics. These courses will provide you with a strong background in essential scientific principles and problem-solving techniques.

For humanities, AP English Literature, AP History, and AP Languages are beneficial. They help develop analytical writing, and language skills, which are crucial for success in fields like literature, history, law, and international relations.

If you're interested in a career in medicine, taking AP Biology and AP Chemistry can give you a head start on the material you'll encounter in pre-med courses.

Aligning with your interests and strengths

Choosing AP subjects that align with your personal interests and academic strengths can make the coursework more enjoyable and less stressful. If you have a passion for environmental issues, AP Environmental Science might be particularly engaging. Or if you excel in maths, AP Statistics could be a rewarding challenge that showcases your abilities to college admissions officers.

Balancing your workload

It’s important to balance challenging AP courses with those you find less demanding to avoid becoming overwhelmed. Pairing a tough course like AP Physics with a relatively easier one like AP Psychology can help manage your stress levels and workload. Remember, the goal is to demonstrate your capability to handle advanced coursework without sacrificing your well-being.

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How to study for the APs


Self-study requires discipline and access to good study materials. Resources like prep books, online courses, and practice exams can be incredibly helpful. Creating a study schedule that outlines what topics to cover each week can keep students on track up until their exam date.

Utilising AP-specific study guides and flashcards can assist students in reinforcing key concepts. Students can also join online forums or study groups where they can discuss challenging topics with peers, bounce off ideas and help to reinforce content. Remember, the key to successful self-study is consistency and thorough preparation.

At Your School

Many high schools offer AP courses. Enrolling in these classes provides structured learning and access to teachers for guidance. These classes often include comprehensive syllabi, regular assignments, and mock exams that mimic the actual AP test format. Taking AP courses at school allows students to engage in classroom discussions, ask questions in real-time, and receive feedback from experienced educators.

Take APs Online

Online learning platforms like CGA offer AP courses accredited by the College Board. CGA is also accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) and is registered as a US high school, ensuring high educational standards and recognition. Online courses provide flexibility, allowing students to study at their own pace and schedule classes around their other commitments.

These courses often include interactive elements such as live lectures, discussion forums, and virtual office hours with instructors. If you struggle with a specific topic, you can review recorded lessons or seek help from teachers and peers through slack.

AP Exam Schedule

The AP exams are administered over two weeks in May.

For detailed information on specific exam dates for each subject, students can refer to the full schedule on the CollegeBoard website here. This comprehensive resource provides all the necessary details about the AP Exam Dates and is an essential tool for effective planning and preparation.

It's important to note that there are provisions for late testing under certain circumstances. Students who need to take their exams later than the scheduled dates will have the opportunity to do so during the designated late-testing period. This option ensures that all students have the opportunity to complete their AP exams, even if unexpected events disrupt the regular testing schedule.

AP Student Outcomes

Our students with the help of our outstanding teaching staff have scored some of the highest AP scores in the latest exam cycle. The CGA edge means they perform better than their peers, while learning smarter test-taking strategies.

GLOBAL AVERAGE60% of students scored 3+3.03 average score12% of students scored 5
CGA STUDENT RESULTS86% of students scored 3+3.6 average score42% of students scored 5

It's no doubt that AP courses can open doors to offer students access to some of the world's best universities. For students taking AP courses through self-study, school-based classes, or online with CGA's comprehensive program, mastering the AP exams can get you one step further to achieving your university goals.

If you're ready to take the guesswork out of academic strategy for university, book a consultation with our CGA Admissions team today.