Homeschool AP Science Options

Is your homeschooler a strong science student? If so, AP sciences may be a a good option to consider. Science APs are considered among the harder of the Advanced Placement tests which means they are also among the APs most likely to be awarded college credit.

AP Science Homeschool
APs are intended to function as college level courses for high school students. Homeschoolers can enroll in AP courses or can prepare on their own for AP tests. These tests are offered in May at local public and private schools. AP courses can be a good way to motivate high school students and can offer the possibility of challenging coursework while in high school. Many colleges also offer college credits for stronger scores on AP exams. If your student is considering a STEM career such as engineering or pre-med APs may help them develop the foundational knowledge they need to be successful in highly competitive introductory college courses.

AP students have a variety of choices available for studying science. Remember that APs are intended to be the equivalent of college courses, so typical students will do the AP as the second year of study in a particular area. For example, most students will do a year of general biology before they take a year long AP biology course. As a homeschooler, though, you have flexibility. If your student is particularly capable or had strong sciences while in middle school they may be able to go directly to the AP course. Some homeschoolers also opt to schedule more time in the day to fit both the introductory and the AP course into one year. There are several options AP science options available.

AP Biology
AP Biology is the most popular of the AP sciences taken by over 250,000 students. The biology exam covers four “big ideas”: evolution, cellular processes, genetics, and interactions. AP biology is intended to be taught with a lab component. I suggest students have at least some foundation in chemistry before beginning AP biology. AP biology is intended to cover the same material as a two semester introductory college biology course.

AP Chemistry
The second most popular AP science, AP Chemistry is known to be a challenging course. Students should expect to put in a significant amount of time to master this material. The College Board has the expectation that students spend 90 minutes a week in lab. Chemistry can be one of the more challenging subjects to teach at home, but there are a variety of options. Many co-ops and some colleges offer lab-only courses for homeschoolers. AP chemistry assumes students have met the prerequisite of algebra 2. Topics in AP chemistry include: atomic theory, chemical bonding, phases of matter, solutions, types of reactions, chemical equilibrium, reaction kinetics, electrochemistry and thermodynamics.

AP Environmental Science
The third most popular AP science course is AP Environmental Science. This interdisciplinary course encourages students to use scientific principles to analyze global environmental problems.  AP environmental science students will investigate the interrelationships of the natural world, identify and analyze environmental problems, both natural and human-made, evaluate the relative risks associated with these problems, and examine alternative solutions for resolving and/or preventing them.  AP environmental science promotes hands-on exploration and lab activities to understand “real world” problems.  Students are encouraged to make observations and learn to conduct experiments.

This is considered the “lightest” AP science by most colleges.  Colleges are less likely to award college credit for this course than for other APs at the same time, many high school students are interested in environmental science and it may be one of the easier AP sciences to do at home because it lends itself to labs that are more easily done at home.

AP Physics
Currently there are four AP physics exams and it can be confusing for homeschoolers to sort out which is the most appropriate AP physics sequence for their learner so we will discuss these exams in more detail than the other AP sciences.

Physics 1 and 2 are algebra based courses.  Students enrolled in these courses should have completed geometry and be enrolled in or have completed algebra 2.

AP Physics 1 topics include Newtonian mechanics (including rotational motion); work, energy, and power; mechanical waves and sound; and introductory, simple circuits.   This course doesn’t require physics background or any advanced math. It is intended to be the equivalent of a first year no-major college course in physics.

AP Physics 2 is also an algebra based course.  It covers more advanced topics than AP Physics 1 and is intended to be a full year course taken after AP Physics 1 or after another introductory physics course. It is intended to be the equivalent of a second year college physics course for nonmajors. Topics covered include Explore topics such as fluid statics and dynamics; thermodynamics with kinetic theory; PV diagrams and probability; electrostatics; electrical circuits with capacitors; magnetic fields; electromagnetism; physical and geometric optics; and quantum, atomic, and nuclear physics.

AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism is a calculus based physics course.  This course can be taken by students who have completed, or concurrently enrolled in, calculus one or calculus AB. This course explores topics such as electrostatics, electric circuits, conductors, capacitors, dielectrics, magnetic fields, and electromagnetism. These topics overlap with the AP Physics 1 exam but AP Physics C: Mechanics is a more rigorous and deeper course because it is a calculus based course.

AP Physics C: Mechanics is a calculus based physics course. This course covers topics such as kinematics; Newton’s laws of motion, work, energy and power; systems of particles and linear momentum; circular motion and rotation; oscillations; and gravitation. This course as some overlaps with AP Physics 2, but it is a more challenging level intended for stronger STEM students. Course offerings vary from one school to the next. Some students may take AP Physics: Mechanics after taking AP Physics 1 or AP Physics Electricity and Magnetism.

A student may take both physics C courses in a single year and take both exams or may opt to take just one.  These physics C courses are an excellent choice for students who plan to major in a STEM field such as engineering, physics, or math.

Most homeschoolers taking AP sciences do so through structured courses offered online or through local courses. It is also an option for students to self study for AP exams.

4 comments

  • We have a 14 and 16 year old in high school. The 16 year old is taking the AP bio exam in may, but I read APs are bad for medical school and she plans to be a surgeon. What should we do?

  • Hello,
    Most future pre-med students will take some science APs in high school. They are helpful for building a good science curriculum and they can be helpful for college admissions. What is important for medical school is to not use these AP courses as a substitute for core college classes. Your student can take the AP courses and then use that strong foundation to do well in the very competitive introductory “weeder” science courses. Most students in these courses will have had AP level coursework so your student can be at a disadvantage if they don’t have a similar background.

  • Hi, Where do homeschoolers wanting to take these AP exams, biology in particular, typically get the lab experience? I’m finding that part very challenging. Thank you!

    • Dear Keren,
      Thanks for your question. The lab component for APs can be challenging for homeschoolers for sure and often families end up outsourcing this to a local college. Some students take online courses that have a lab component. Some students attend lab intensive sessions at local colleges or through homeschool organizations. Occasionally a homeschool parent who has a strong background in sciences may offer a local lab focused session out of their garage or a community center.

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