female student taking an ap class online

We’ve written before about the pros and cons of AP classes and the factors to take into consideration when choosing classes for a new semester or school year—but what about AP classes outside of your regular school day? There are plenty of options for students who are interested in taking online AP courses, but these online classes aren’t right for everyone. Read on to learn about the pros and cons of online AP classes.

The Benefits

  • Access to AP classes not available at your school: What if your school doesn’t offer the AP classes you want? What if you can’t register for the classes you want because of prerequisites or other limitations? Then online AP classes offer an alternative means of accessing AP classes.
  • Potential for early graduation: Depending on the school district and the organization you take AP classes through, you may be able to earn credit towards high school graduation for your online AP classes, which means you might be able to graduate early.
  • Potential to get required credits for graduation: Again, you may be able to get some of your required classes for graduation out the way. That will make some room for you to take more electives that appeal to your interests.
  • Flexible scheduling: A lot of online AP courses allow you to set your own pace. You won’t have homework due by second period on Thursday, so you can decide when you do the work.
  • Independence: Online AP courses offer a great deal of independence, allowing students to complete the work at the pace they choose. For students who are self-motivated and disciplined, this independence is excellent practice for college classes.

The Drawbacks

  • You may not get high school credit for your work: Policies differ widely from school to school and district to district. Research your school’s policies in advance if it’s important to you that your online classes provide high school credit.
  • Lack of accountability: Most online courses allow you to work at your own pace. This sounds great, unless you fall so far behind that you have almost no hope of catching back up.
  • Less academic support: Many online courses don’t provide the same degree of academic support as an in-person option. Be sure to research how much support you can expect from your online instructors or other academic counselors.

Who benefits most from online AP classes?

  • Students who want to take an AP class they can’t take at school: If your school doesn’t offer many AP classes or if restrictive enrollment requirements keep you from taking an AP class you really want to take, online AP classes might be a valuable alternative.
  • Homeschooled students: Many homeschooled students lack access to officially accredited AP classes, and online options offer a solution.
  • Students with complicated schedules: Many students somewhat unconventional schedules, whether because of participation in work-study programs, dual enrollment programs, or traveling athletic programs. This can limit participation in the AP classes offered through your school, and online AP classes provide a solution.
  • Students who want to take AP classes during the summer: Most online AP classes have rolling start dates, so you can complete them at any time of the year. Summer offers a great time to enroll in an online AP class that you can complete without the added demands of the school year.

What’s the difference between online AP classes and self-studying for AP exams?

You are not required to take an AP class—whether online or in person—in order to take an AP exam. The AP exam score is what determines whether a student receives college credit. So plenty of students opt to simply self-study for AP exams.

Students who don’t have a strong base of knowledge in the AP subject will often find self-studying to be incredibly difficult. The sheer volume of information in a typical AP exam can be overwhelming, especially if it’s all brand-new information. An online AP class offers instruction, support, and a framework for study so that students are more likely to succeed on the AP exam.

Online AP courses also provide students with a formal transcript with a letter grade, and depending on school policies, they may confer high school credit. Self-studying for the AP exam might produce a high enough AP exam score to earn college credit but will never confer high school credit.

What to Consider When Choosing A Provider

Not all online AP classes are built equally! Be sure to read reviews for online AP course providers before enrolling. Pay particular attention to these factors:

  • Is the online course provider accredited? High school credit is usually a possibility only if the course provider is accredited.
  • Is there sufficient tech support? Online AP courses can experience glitches. Good tech support is key to a successful online class.
  • How much academic support should you expect? Some AP course providers are better than others when it comes to academic support. Look for providers that allow you to contact instructors for support when needed.