As freshmen, many students enter high school excited for all the cool classes and activities that the schools offer. Often, one of these opportunities is Advanced Placement. College counselors and school administration promote the rigorous nature of the courses and the ultimate reward of college credit. But after four years of hard work, many students find that their 3s, 4s, or sometimes even 5s aren’t worth anything in their schools of choice. Students find themselves frustrated and discouraged, was all that work worth anything?
So What Do Colleges Have to Say?
During my college tour at MIT, the guide was explaining the required science and math courses. A brave soul raised their hand and asked about exemption through AP credit. The lengthy response included an assertion worded something like this: “Our introductory biology classes cover the entire AP Biology curriculum in the first few weeks”. This earned the student guide many gasps from around the room. The AP Biology course and exam are considered to cover a wide breadth of complex and challenging material. According to a tweet by Trevor Packer, head of AP at College Board, only 6.5% of students got 5s on the 2014 AP Biology exam.
Whether the statement by the guide was a hyperbole or not, it shows that these elite universities do not trust AP courses to completely prepare students for college. While all AP courses theoretically follow the same curriculum, the classroom situations vary greatly across the country and the world. So the institutions cannot be sure of what a student did or did not learn in an AP classroom and thus cannot ascertain if the student has the necessary knowledge to tackle the higher level classes. But that doesn’t mean that they do not value the hard work students put into their classes. As I advanced through my high school career, many admissions officers kept emphasizing that the rigorous workload is more important than test taking. So even if your college doesn’t take your AP credit, you can take comfort in the fact that it helped you secure your place there.
An important thing to note is that elite colleges usually do not reject all AP credit. Usually a 5 on a language test fulfills the language requirement. In other areas, 5s or even 4s may allow a student to be placed into a higher level class. However, it’s important to consider both the positive and negative consequences of placing out of introductory courses. While the basic classes may seem repetitive, sometimes they provide essential skills for incoming freshmen such as easing them in to college level writing. Once again, it also depends on preparation the actual high school class provided. I received a 5 on the AP art history exam, but I took it as an online class. Now after completing this introductory survey of art history I realize that I would not have been prepared to write and research in a higher level class.
Each university has its unique AP policy, and while it can’t be exactly pinpointed as to why some universities give credit for certain things students can do to make the process more bearable. First, change your perspective, don’t go into an AP class thinking it will necessarily give you college credit, go into the class ready to learn, knowing that it’s a stepping stone to achieving your college dream. Additionally, sometimes it might be better to not receive credit or be placed in a higher level class. But if you really feel ready you can always talk to your Academic Advisor about taking a placement test or talk to the particular Department and reach an agreement. Finally, APs aren’t the only rigorous and interesting courses to enhance your transcript, I’ve met quite a few people who never took an AP class and still succeeded at top tier schools!