10/20/2011 12:09 pm ET Updated Dec 20, 2011

"Help! My School Doesn't Offer AP Courses"

Help! My school doesn't offer many AP classes - how can I make myself more marketable on college applications? - AP-less in Arizona

Have no fear - many other students have faced the same predicament and colleges understand that not everyone has access to AP courses! Whether you're homeschooled, at an unaccredited private school or just a small town without a lot of options, there are still ways to shine on college applications.

It's tempting to blame your school and teachers for not giving you more options, and it's frustrating to hear your friends at other schools talk about the great classes they've been able to take. But it might not be your school's fault - the College Board is super strict about AP policies. If your school isn't accredited (a state test that can be time-consuming and costly for smaller schools), it can't participate in programs like the National Honor Society. It's difficult for these places to get AP classes approved - teachers have to send detailed syllabi to the College Board for approval months in advance. Your teachers may have tried to offer more AP options, but the school's reputation or a lack of correct readings and assignments in the syllabi may not have met the College Board's standards.

If you aren't sure if your school has earned its accreditation, ask a teacher or guidance counselor. Schools that are not accredited are viewed by admissions counselors as on par with homeschooling, so you may be required to submit additional materials with your applications.

So, what can you do to make yourself more marketable without a competitive transcript? Here are a few options.

Consider a dual-enrollment program.

This is the first option most counselors and admissions offices will recommend - it means that while you're still a student at your high school, you can also take a college-level class. You can take a single course at a local or state university to supplement the education at your school, and the credit may even help you in college depending on where you attend school.

If you can't take a class during the school day, community colleges offer a variety of night and online classes, or you could take class in the summer. Don't worry that it will put your schedule into overload - dual enrollment courses can give you both high school and college credit, so if you're taking a course at a community college, you probably won't have to take its equivalent at your school.

Alex Macey, now a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill, went to an unaccredited high school that didn't offer AP math classes, so she took a mail-away statistics course through UNC-Greensboro while a senior in high school. It didn't interfere with her high school courses, and the credit helped her on both college applications and with UNC's general education requirements.

You may also want to consider receiving college credit over the summer. For example, the University of Dallas offers online summer courses that culminate in two-week study abroad programs. I attended their Shakespeare in Italy program during high school and was able to exempt myself from a Shakespeare class in college. These programs can be costly, but will often offer scholarship opportunities.

So how do you set this up? Talk to your guidance counselor. She'll be able to direct you to local community colleges as well as online and mail-away programs. If you take classes through your state's school system, you should be fine, but don't sign up for a course without asking a counselor or teacher about it first. You want to make sure you're paying for something that will count later!

Take the AP test without taking an AP course.

This is becoming a more and more popular option among high-schoolers, whether it's because they can't take AP classes or are too busy to take the ones they would like. Doing this will require a lot of self-motivation, but if you can achieve a good score it may be worth the trouble.

Zachary de la Rosa, now a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill, attended the North Carolina School of Science and Math, a selective, public boarding school in Durham, N.C. He filled his schedule with AP courses but also studied for AP tests he wasn't taking classes for, and was able to exempt himself from most of the general education requirements at UNC-CH.

Use standard study books from trustable sources, like the Princeton Review and the College Board to help you prepare for the exam(s). See if a teacher will advise you in your independent study. It won't count as a course credit, but they can help you figure out what you need to know.

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