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With AP scores recently released and rising seniors across the country starting their college applications, you may be wondering how much weight that number between one and five has on your chances of getting into your dream schools. If you scored high, you want to feel like the hours you spent studying were worth something, especially if the places you’re applying to aren’t very generous about giving credit for AP exams; if you scored low, maybe you want to know if you should bother applying at all. (I, for one, would say that if you have the financial means, you should apply to your top schools regardless of your perceived chances.)

Before we delve any deeper, however, let’s look at how colleges actually receive your AP scores. It may seem like performance on AP exams should be correlated with success in college courses and thus be taken into consideration in the admissions process. But for better or worse, this is often not the case. The thing is, the vast majority of colleges do not require AP scores for admissions (whereas the comparable SAT subject tests occasionally are mandatory, particularly for the most selective schools). So technically, if you weren’t pleased with your score on that AP Spanish exam, the admissions committee doesn’t need to know, and you can wait until you’ve received your admissions decisions (i.e. end of senior year) to send an official report, worry-free. (This, of course, excludes cases in which AP scores are listed on the high school transcript, which are almost always an application requirement.)

On the other hand, on the Common Application, there is a section for you to self-report your AP scores (in addition to your IB and SAT subject test scores). As already implied, this is your prerogative. When deciding whether or not to self-report, don’t worry about the colleges not knowing you took a taxing AP class or that you excelled in it–that would already be evident via your transcript (and maybe even your teacher recommendations).

DC College Admissions Examiner Nancy Grimer says, “How colleges actually use an AP score in the admissions decision […] varies from school to school.” So, as with everything else involved with admissions, if you’re unsure of how AP scores are evaluated, check the specific school’s website. A school might not require AP scores, but still might review them if they are submitted. In general, if you’re happy with your scores, feel free to report them on your Common App. If the admissions officers take them into consideration, great! If not, then you didn’t lose anything but a little time. Your application will more than likely not be hindered if you refrain from reporting lower scores; however, you may have to consider the slight possibility that admissions officers may end up noticing that you took AP biology but didn’t report your exam results–thus drawing the conclusion that your score was unsatisfactory. Even so, Todd Johnson of College Admissions Partners states, “Generally, lower AP scores will not affect admissions decisions.

Still, there remains a more tangible way for AP scores to affect admissions: AP Scholar awards. That is, getting multiple high scores on AP exams can cause you to be rewarded with one of these merits (and a nice certificate). If you get one (or more!) before your senior year, you can go on to put it on your college application as an honor.

Ultimately, regardless of your AP exam scores and whether the colleges you’re applying to this fall will review them, one thing’s positive: there are numerous other objective factors in college admissions that will definitely be considered–GPA and SAT/ACT scores, for example–and which you should be concerned with instead. Furthermore, simply the fact that you took AP courses will be favorable for admissions. Rather than fretting about getting a low score on the AP Calculus AB exam and what it means for your chances of getting into your schools of choice, you should enjoy the rest of your summer.

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