More students are taking AP exams, which don’t come cheap

The growth of AP tests in the U.S.

A new report shows the number of high school students taking Advanced Placement exams has nearly doubled in the last decade. At $89 a pop — though a low-income subsidy is available — the millions of tests add up to a lot of revenue for the College Board, the non-profit that runs the AP program.

Those revenues are rising as more and more students and parents come to see AP classes as vital to getting into college in an increasingly competitive admissions environment.

The percentage of high school graduates from each state in 2013 that took an AP exam

Those who graduated high school before the last decade might be surprised to hear just how many AP classes today’s students take and how early they start them. North Carolina high school student Brooke Huang needed a moment to recall the all the AP classes she took, which included environmental science, art history, calculus AB and world history.

That was just her sophomore year; she’s taken plenty more AP classes since. The courses were previously a way for students to set themselves apart, but with college admissions increasingly competitive, many students feel they’re now potentially as important as the SAT, also run by the College Board. Testing fees can add up fast for families.

“If your son or daughter is taking more than one, you could be spending several hundred dollars,” says Andrea Morris, mother of a Maryland high school student. “That’s real money to many families.”

She knows other parents who set aside their tax refunds to pay test fees.

Revenue from the AP program is vital for the College Board, a company that brings in more than $750 million dollars a year overall. Senior vice president Trevor Packer hears the complaints from parents, but says testing is costly to run. He also says Board research shows families see the opportunity to earn college credit as a fair deal. And the College Board does reduce fees for low-income students.

“We haven’t seen that that $89 exam fee is a barrier for most students,” Packer says.

With a college degree more important than ever and AP classes widely seen as the path to great schools, more parents will be shelling out for their kids to take these tests. Future reports on AP tests may show higher numbers still.

About the author

Mark Garrison is a reporter and substitute host for Marketplace, based in New York.


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