The College Board’s Advanced Placement Capstone Diploma Program, or AP Capstone, is still a relatively recent addition to the course catalog at many high schools across the U.S.
To earn the diploma, students must complete two core classes in a specific sequence: AP Seminar, typically as a sophomore or junior, and AP Research the following school year. Students must also take any other four AP courses at any time in high school, yielding a total of six classes with qualifying scores on their end-of-year exams for successful completion of the program.
AP Seminar and AP Research were developed with an eye toward instructing students on how to complete college-level work – not just learn college-level material. In the hands of the right instructors, this course duo simulates college-level seminars and research projects.
However, since the AP Capstone is still a fairly young program, many students may be unfamiliar with it and have questions about whether it would be better for them to complete the whole program or to enroll in individual AP courses. If this describes you, here are five questions to ask yourself before making a decision.
Can I Handle the Academic Rigor of AP Capstone?
The first question you should ask yourself is whether you can succeed in both the AP Seminar and AP Research courses, as well as in the four other required AP classes. “Succeed” means performing well in each class, as well as earning a 3 or better on each course’s end-of-year exam.
Although the prospect of completing six AP classes can be daunting, the best way to answer this question is to consider what you would do if the AP Capstone diploma did not exist. If you would have taken five, six or more AP courses anyway, then AP Capstone may be a great option for you. If, on the other hand, you would enroll in only one or two AP classes, then the AP Capstone diploma may not suit your academic needs.
Can I Afford to Pay for 6 AP Exams?
There is also the question of whether you can afford the testing fee for six AP courses. If you planned to take several AP classes before you heard about the AP Capstone diploma, ensure that the amount you budgeted for exam fees will cover the whole diploma cost.
Currently, the AP Seminar and AP Research exam fee is $144 per exam, and the fee for all other AP exams taken inside the U.S. is $96. This means that U.S. students and their families should be prepared to spend $672 on the entire program. In certain instances, the College Board, as well as your state government, may be able to reduce fees for qualifying students.
Can My Schedule Accommodate the AP Capstone Diploma?
Schedule availability is another important consideration. Both AP Seminar and AP Research are required year-long courses for the AP Capstone diploma, so the equivalent of two two-semester classes must be cleared from your schedule to accommodate them.
Students who would otherwise take six or more AP courses, but feel that at least two of them are less important to their academic goals, may have the easiest decision. If there are two AP classes that you can sacrifice to take AP Seminar and AP Research, consider doing so. You may even be able to focus your research paper on one of the subjects you dropped.
However, if there are no AP courses you wish to sacrifice, then your decision may become more difficult. For example, you will have to think about whether you are willing to give up extra years of a foreign language or an additional science class of interest.
Will My Prospective Colleges Value the Capstone Diploma?
You should also give some thought to how your prospective colleges will view the curriculum. To start, you can use the College Board’s AP Credit Policy Search tool to find out whether your prospective colleges award credit for completion of the Capstone program. Currently, more than 400 schools award credit for AP Seminar or AP Research. The University of Florida, for example, awards three credits for a score of 4 or 5 on AP Seminar or AP Research.
Visit the official webpage of each of your prospective colleges to receive more specific information on their credit policies. If you come up short, email the admissions office directly with your questions.
For now, though, assess whether the AP courses that you would sacrifice would look better on your application than the AP Capstone diploma. If you are forced to set aside an entire subject of study such as fine arts or foreign language to make room for the required courses, then you should ask yourself whether you prefer to come across as a well-rounded or specialized student. Speak to your school counselor, parents or guardians, and teachers, and plan your schedule through senior year before you enroll in the AP Capstone program.
Do Students at My High School Succeed in This Program?
Because conditions, resources and instructors vary from one high school to the next, the AP Capstone program may be slightly different in different places. The best way to get a feel for how the program manifests itself at your school is by speaking to students who are going through it now or have recently completed it.
If you do not know students who are or were involved in the program, or if you do but feel too shy to approach them, start by scheduling a meeting with your counselor. The guidance department at your high school may be able to provide you with inside information about AP Capstone, such as statistics about student success rates in the program.
However, remember that no matter what you hear from others, in the end it is always best to listen to your instinct and make decisions based on your own unique situation, desires and talents.
AP Capstone has the potential to be rigorous and rewarding. Answer these five questions as the starting point for your decision, but be sure to consider other factors such as who is teaching each course and what you truly wish to study.