Would saving $10,000, $20,000, or even $50,000 on your child’s education interest you? Here’s a strategy that could potentially save you tens of thousands of dollars, and also improve your child’s chances at getting in an elite college. (Full disclosure: There are some negatives about using this strategy. This is no free ride by any means. So I want you and your family to be armed with all the facts before deciding if it’s in your best interest.)

Obviously, by the title of this article it’s clear the strategy I’m referring to is Advanced Placement Courses (AP Classes for short.) This is not something new. AP classes were originally created in the 1950’s in order to give motivated kids the chance to earn college credit while still in high school. But what you may not know is this: There are 3 BIG reasons your child should seriously consider taking AP courses:

AP College Credit Pro #: Improve chances of getting in elite colleges

Being accepted at elite colleges is all about standing out from other applicants. And taking AP level courses is one way in which you can stand out. But don’t just take it from me. Here is what admission officers, at some of the toughest colleges to get admitted to in America, had to say on this topic:

“We prefer AP-level work and accord such work more weight in our evaluation of the curriculum an applicant has chosen.”

~Tony Strickland, Former Associate Director of Undergraduate Admissions, University of North Carolina

“If students avoid challenges in their course selection, they’re probably not going to be good candidates, no matter what their grades, test scores, or extracurricular activities are.”

~Michael Behnke, Director of Admissions 1985-1997, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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AP College Credit Pros #2 and #3: Receive college credit and reduce college costs

This is where the real savings can take place. Many colleges will give college credit to student applicants if they have passed the AP tests with a score of 3 or better. For example, if a student has a passing grade on four AP tests, that is typically worth 12 college credits before entering college. The average credit hour per semester (for colleges on a 2 semester system) is 15 credits. This virtually eliminates paying for one semester of college. At elite colleges, a semester of college can cost as much as $25,000. This is a potential huge savings for families!

The College Board recently came out with some studies on kids who took AP classes as well. One of those studies found that AP students had better 4-year graduation rates than those who did not take AP level courses. For example, graduation rates for AP English Literature students were 62 percent higher than graduation rates for those who took other English courses in high school.

Students are now taking on average between 5 ½ and 6 years to graduate undergrad. So any steps kids can take to reduce the number of years is going to save families a ton of money. A great goal to have is to graduate college in 3-4 years, and taking AP level courses and obtaining college credit is a step in the right direction to achieving this goal.

Up to this point, AP level classes sound like a no-brainer. But unfortunately there is a dark side to AP courses.

AP College Credit Con #1: Not all colleges will accept AP credit

Some unsuspecting students will be surprised to find that their classes are not as readily accepted by universities as they thought they would be. This includes many Ivy level colleges. Elite colleges sometimes will claim that some high school’s AP level courses are not as rigorous as their own; therefore they won’t accept the credits. There are also colleges claiming they can’t afford to let students with AP credits advance an entire semester or year without having stepped foot on campus. So they simply just reject all AP credits.

High schools are also getting in on the act of misusing the AP program. Some schools are teaching to the test, which causes inflated AP score averages. This scenario effectively churns out kids with AP credit who don’t necessarily have a deep knowledge level of the subject.

AP College Credit Con #2: The stress involved with AP level course

For many AP classes, 2-3 hours of homework per night is not uncommon. Over an entire year, this sheer amount of work can weigh on kids, bringing additional stress to teens.

AP College Credit Con #3: Opportunity cost

As I mentioned, the majority of AP courses require an enormous amount of homework and study time. That’s study and homework time which can take away from sports, band, a job, volunteer work, or social time with friends. That’s also time a high school teen can never get back.

With these pros and cons in mind, you should consider taking AP courses to help you get a leg up on your college education, but also be aware of extra pressure and responsibility AP courses can put on a teen’s life.