From personal observations and experience, there are several benefits of taking a high school Advanced Placement (AP) course along with the accompanying exam. First, an AP course, if taught properly, presents you with an academic challenge. All other factors aside, intellectual stimulation is a powerful argument for taking at least one AP course starting in your junior year, or even sooner if you feel prepared for it.
Second, a high school AP course gives you a preview of the pace and scope of an undergraduate level course. More often than not, this experience eases the transition from high school to college and makes your freshman year a far less overwhelming experience, at least from an academic perspective. AP science courses, such as Biology or Chemistry, help you anticipate the kinds of laboratories you will likely encounter at the college level. Taking AP Literature introduces you to authors you may have never encountered on your own in addition to improving your reading and analytical skills. As a future college student, AP English Composition provides you with a definite edge by honing your writing skills. In short, if you are a student who takes college preparation seriously, there is no downside to taking AP courses in high school.
No discussion would be complete without mentioning the exam given upon completion of the course. As much as some students dread taking the AP exam, most find that, in retrospect, it was a reasonable challenge as opposed to a frightful ordeal. Taking the AP exam is optional to begin with, and regardless of your score on the exam, a strong performance in the course still translates into a good grade on your high school transcript.
The main disadvantage, of course, is that undergraduate schools usually award credits only to those students who score a 3 or above on an AP exam. Also, some universities (especially private schools) can be rather selective in terms of which AP courses they will honor with credit hours. That said, a solid performance in an AP course can only improve your chances of admission to a competitive school.
Last but not least, a strong performance on the AP exam often translates into college credits. Earning credits prior to attending an undergraduate school will not only boost your self confidence, it also has tangible financial benefits. Accumulating a sufficient number of credits from high school AP courses means one less semester of college you have to pay for. AP credits, in conjunction with scholarship money, can help soften the financial impact of university tuition. Given the skyrocketing cost of college in recent years, any factor that helps defray this expense is worth checking out.