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I’m passionate about every part of the College Board’s Access to Opportunity work, but encouraging students who have shown the potential to be successful in challenging courses to take AP classes is especially personal and rewarding. Those students have proven they are ready and should be encouraged to take full advantage of the opportunities they’ve earned through their hard work and grit.

I took one AP course in high school — AP calculus — and it was easily one of the best classes I ever took. I took it because I liked math and knew I was good at it, but I didn’t give a second thought to what the class could do for my future. I didn’t even take the AP exam; no one explained to me what the benefits were, such as potentially earning college credit or skipping introductory coursework, and it just seemed like it would be a waste of money I didn’t have in the first place. All I knew was that none of my friends were in the class, nobody in the class looked like me or was Latino, and I was afraid that I wasn’t smart enough to do well on the exam.

That’s why today I work so hard to get the word out — and get teachers, counselors, and high school administrators to get the word out — that AP courses and exams can open the door to a successful future. There are so many benefits. You can earn college credit and save on tuition, fit in a second major, or study abroad. You will show college admissions officers that you are ready for college-level work and that you’re committed to your education and your future. You can explore subjects and fields in greater depth and get a better sense of whether certain majors or careers may be right, or wrong, for you. Best of all is the self-challenge that comes with taking AP classes. It’s a great way to prepare yourself for what’s ahead of you in college in the more supportive environment of your high school, and it’s rewarding in a way that few other high school classes can be. Lastly, AP teachers, like my AP calculus teacher, are some of the best in your school. They really make the difference in the AP classroom.

I often begin talks with students by explaining that I am one of the very lucky ones. As a working-class Latino whose parents never had the chance to go to college, the odds were stacked against me. To some degree, I owe my success in life and career to the luck of finding the right mentor at just the right time. But I shouldn’t have had to rely on luck. No young person should.

If you think you have what it takes to succeed in AP, then, please, talk to your teacher or school counselor about how to enroll. Don’t assume that you can’t afford to take an AP exam; the College Board provides a fee reduction for students with financial need. Many states use federal and state funding to further reduce the exam fee. And remember, if you’ve shown the potential and are willing to do the hard work, then AP is right for you.

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