There are hundred, if not thousands, of online AP courses. So how are you supposed to find the best one for you?
To help you sort through your options, I’ll quickly go over what makes a good online AP course. Then I’ll discuss some of the best-reviewed online AP courses, some popular online AP class providers, and wrap up with some classes that you should avoid.
7 Factors That Make a Good Online AP Course
If you're searching for the best online AP courses, these are the qualities you should look for.
#1: It's Accredited
There’s no reason why you can’t self-study for an exam with non-accredited online resources—but if you are going to take an entire AP course online, it makes the most sense to take one that is accredited by the College Board. This means that they have looked over the syllabus and course requirements and approved it, and that it can be listed as an AP course if your high school will list the online course on your transcript.
#2: The Material Is Presented Well
You want the material to be interesting, engaging, and presented clearly. The coursework may not be your first choice of activity, but if you’re bored out of your mind, you won’t want to study, and if you’re confused, you will be frustrated.
#3: Teachers Are Accessible and Give Good Feedback
Teachers should be easy to reach and give useful, timely feedback. If you are waiting for them to return assignments from months ago when you take the AP, that’s not particularly helpful.
#4: The Workload Is Reasonable
Many AP courses are demanding, which is to be expected. But you want to make sure that you have a good sense of how many hours per week you have available to spend on online coursework and how many hours a week the class will take.
#5: There's an Easy-To-Use Interface and Tech Support
A good course will be easy to navigate on your computer. You should also have easy access to tech support resources should something go wrong.
#6: The Class Preps You for the AP Exam
If you can get any information on how students tend to score on the exam after taking the course, that will be very useful in making a decision on a course.
#7: It's Well-Reviewed
A good online AP course is one other students have had good experiences in! Check forum sites like College Confidential for reviews of a given course.
With those seven criteria in mind, we’re ready for a more in-depth look at some of the best-reviewed online AP courses out there!
You can master the universe...of online AP courses!
8 Great Online AP Courses
Below I’ve compiled a list of some of the best online AP courses. Ideally I would be able to provide an option for every AP, but unfortunately, some APs have very few online options (if any). That is why, as you may notice, there are some popular AP courses like Calculus and English Language that do not appear on the list below.
AP US History
AP US History from the UC system’s Scout program - Students like the material, the pace, and the focus on AP exam prep. Multimedia lessons are praised for being engaging, and assessments and assignments are full of variety, which keeps things interesting. Students appreciated the consistent pace of the assignments. A special bonus is that the end of the course involves an AP workshop with study strategies, practice AP exams, etc. This is also one of the cheaper online AP course providers, and it’s discounted for CA students.
AP Art History
AP Art History from the Florida Virtual School - Students appreciate that the course spends so much time on non-European art. The enjoy the interactive gallery format and find that they easily retain the material because it is presented so engagingly. They appreciate that the class content is not overly difficult, but they still feel prepared for the AP exam.
AP Human Geography
AP Human Geography from the Florida Virtual School - Students recommend this class, finding it interesting without being frustrating. They also praise the teaching staff and like that teachers are accessible by text, e-mail, and phone.
AP Psychology from the Florida Virtual School - Students find the material fascinating, and the course low-difficulty. Some assignments are fun, and the online “textbook” has very helpful interactive video components and simulations. Overall, this course is straightforward and preps well for the exam. With that said, students advise that some of the course material does require rote memorization, while other parts are more conceptual.
AP Bio from Johns Hopkins CTY - Students felt that this course overprepared them for the AP Bio exam, but in a good way. They also appreciated that the two lowest grades on tests were dropped, so you could dive into difficult material without fear that some struggling along the road would completely tank your grade.
AP Biology from Apex Learning - This class has a combination virtual/in person lab component--helpful given that many online courses do not have labs at all. Students do advise that this course is reading-heavy.
AP Chemistry from ChemAdvantage - The main selling point of this class is that students get mailed a small lab kit and do at-home labs; lab components are often missing from AP science courses. The course is taught and managed by a husband and wife team. Students receive lots of instructor attention and feel that instructors are flexible when necessary. The course is demanding, but this is expected for AP Chemistry and students feel well-prepared for the exam. Unfortunately, this class is primarily offered to homeschoolers, but their FAQ says that they may be able to accommodate students whose schools simply don’t offer AP Chem.
AP Computer Science A
AP CS A from the Florida Virtual School - This is one of the most highly-praised online courses out there. Students feel that Computer Science a natural fit from an online school, and that the FLVS class is particularly superb. They say that the FLVS course teaches a strong coding foundation, good habits, and a strong conceptual understanding. Students find that they easily retain the material for months and feel very prepared for the exam. Plus, it’s fun! They warn that you may spend 10 hours a week or more writing programs, but that you will enjoy yourself and it is time well-spent.
There you have it—a selection of some of the most popular online AP classes available. Still at a loss? Keep reading for a brief list of three of the most well-regarded online AP providers.
We briefly interrupt this broadcast to bring you this mesmerizing jellyfish.
3 High-Quality Online AP Course Providers
In addition to some specific courses being like by students, there are also some online providers that are particularly well-regarded. It’s still a good idea to look for reviews and making sure a course has what you are looking for before you sign up, but these are some online schools that have a reputation for high-quality coursework.
For homeschooled students in any state, PA Homeschoolers AP Courses are very well-reviewed, with outstanding teachers being the number one benefit. AP History and English classes are particularly well-liked, and this appears to be the only AP Environmental Science course anywhere on the internet that is praised and not widely loathed. However, you must be a homeschooled student to register.
Florida Virtual School
Though there are a couple courses that aren’t highly reviewed (see below), most students found AP offerings from FLVS to be comprehensive, cost-effective, worthwhile, and adequate preparation for the AP exam. They also have a wide variety of AP courses available. This is one of the cheaper online providers, has no admissions requirements, and is free in Florida!
Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth
Johns Hopkins CTY is an online course provider for gifted students. To take courses, students need to get qualifying courses on the PSAT. In general, students found AP courses from this provider to be thorough and enjoyable. The material used is said to be top-notch. Some reported liking courses through CTY better than AP classes they took in their brick-and-mortar school! This is an expensive provider, though there is some financial aid available.
So I've gone over some courses and providers you can probably count on. There are also some courses other students have found frustrating, that you may want to avoid.
Allow me to steer you away from AP online danger!
3 Bad Online AP Classes
Of course, not every online AP course is a great experience. There are some classes that are known throughout the world of high school distance learning as particularly terrible, and I’ll discuss why here.
AP US History From Apex Learning
There were two chief complaints here: logistical and technical issues with the course, and preparation for the AP. Students found that they lost points on quizzes due to technical errors when they had selected the correct answer. They were annoyed by all of the faxing they had to do, and that their faxed documents frequently got lost. Even more disconcertingly, students did not feel prepared to get 4-5 level scores on the exam, but only a 2-3. They found they learned more from prep books than the course! If you’re having better luck studying on your own, there’s no point in taking the class.
AP Environmental Science From the Florida Virtual School
This is probably the most widely reviled online course I saw. Students were frustrated by the workload, assessments, and lack of teacher accessibility. They found that lessons focused on information that was not relevant to the AP exam. They pointed to a high workload of busywork with low exam preparation payoff. Assessments were brutally long. Teachers took a long time to get back to students. The general consensus was that no one should take this course.
AP Government From the Florida Virtual School
This course, again, was reviled for its poor preparation value for the exam. Students found that assessments were frequently based on minor, unimportant details instead of major concepts. Even diligent students who carefully read the lessons and took notes felt that assessments were unfairly specific and did little to prepare them for the actual AP exam.
As you can see, there are several running themes in what makes a course disliked: there are technical problems with the way the course is run, the material is presented in a way that is boring or overly specific, students do not feel prepared for the exam, and teaching staff is inaccessible or not helpful. If you see any of these issues cited in student reviews on College Confidential or elsewhere, these are major red flags. Keep this in mind to avoid any bad eggs!
These eggs are good, so you don't need to avoid them.
Choosing the Right Online AP Course: Final Thoughts
There are high-quality AP online classes available out there, with excellent teaching, good exam prep, and engaging material. There are also less amazing online offerings, with frustrating technological meltdowns, vanishing instructors, and soul-crushing assessments. I’ve listed some highly-praised options and some less beloved, but this is by no means a comprehensive accounting of every course available.
I’m sure you’ve noticed that some APs are easier to find online than others, and some have more options than others. This means a few well-known APs (World History, English Language) are conspicuously absent from this list of the best online AP courses. Keep in mind what’s available when you are planning your online AP coursework, and do research carefully! A smart investment in an online AP course can have a great payoff.
If you're not quite sure if online AP courses are for you, check out my pros and cons to online AP classes.
Once you've selected your course of choice, you may need help registering for the AP exam.
Want more information about the AP program before you decide? See our expert guide to AP classes and tests.
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Ellen has extensive education mentorship experience and is deeply committed to helping students succeed in all areas of life. She received a BA from Harvard in Folklore and Mythology and is currently pursuing graduate studies at Columbia University.