Frequently Asked Questions About AP Classes in Admissions
This article was written based on the information and opinions presented by Vinay Bhaskara in a CollegeVine livestream. You can watch the full livestream for more info.
Advanced Placement (AP) classes are very important for a successful college application as they prove that you’ve worked to challenge yourself in high school. When it comes time to apply to college, however, it can be difficult to know how to present your work in AP or other advanced classes, how to send in your exam scores, and whether or not it all will even make much of a difference. This article will take you through some of the common questions people have about the role AP classes play in college admissions.
Reporting AP Exam Scores
Should I report all my AP scores or can I choose? Are universities able to see all of my AP exams and scores?
Universities are only able to see the AP exam scores that you submit to them.
If you have already received AP exam scores when it comes time to apply to college, you can choose which of them, if any, you want to submit to a university. They will not be able to see the scores you have not submitted.
They will, of course, be able to see the grades you’ve received in your classes. It’s important, then, to earn good grades in the AP classes you take.
Which AP score should I self-report on my application? How does this change if I’m applying to highly selective colleges?
In general, if you’re applying to highly selective colleges, it is a good idea to report only your 5s. You want to include your best accomplishments on your college application, so you should avoid self-reporting 3s or 4s.
Importance of AP Classes
Do most colleges consider all APs equal?
In general, colleges do regard certain AP courses and exams as more rigorous. Exams in subjects, such as the hard sciences or United States history, are generally considered more challenging.
Even though some of the exams are more difficult than others, a 3 on a very difficult exam won’t necessarily carry much weight. You may want to submit a 4, depending on the course. For certain subjects like chemistry or physics, there is some value to it. In general, however, you should stick to submitting your 5s only.
While the exams are not weighed equally, the classes you take are. On your official transcript, an AP class is an AP class. Performing well in the class, regardless of subject, is very important.
Is it worth taking APs in other subjects like language, government, or something else when I’m interested in a STEM major?
Yes, it is worth it.
Pretty much every prospective STEM major will apply with good grades in math and science, and with good scores on math and science exams. If you can demonstrate that you have different talents―while still doing well in your math and science courses―will be a major plus for your application. Your diverse interests and well-rounded academics will help you to stand out.
How much do AP or International Baccalaureate (IB) exams even matter for acceptance?
The exams themselves do not matter that much.
It is important to challenge yourself with AP- or IB-level coursework, though. College admissions offices want to see that you’ve worked hard and have pushed yourself. This means you should take AP courses in subjects that are relevant to your planned academic track. The exams, however, do not carry that much weight.
If you’re planning to major in engineering, do you have to take AP physics in high school? If you don’t, does it affect admissions?
If your school has AP physics, you should take it in high school. If this is not feasible for you, however, it will not be a major blow to your college application. Nonetheless, taking AP physics in high school does give you a leg up. Especially if you’re planning to apply as an engineering major, taking more difficult classes will only be a benefit to you and your application.
AP Class Alternatives
My high school doesn’t offer any AP classes, but I’ve taken classes at a local college. How will this impact the competitiveness of my application?
If the college you’re applying to receives a lot of applications from students in your area, then they will be aware that many schools in your region don’t provide AP or IB classes. They will have enough context to be able to give you credit if you’ve taken any similarly challenging courses.
If the college you’re applying to does not receive a lot of applications from students in your area, they won’t be as familiar with the school system there. You can address this in two ways.
The first way is to make sure that your school counselor, when writing their recommendation, makes sure to reference the fact that you’re challenging yourself in your coursework. If you’re taking classes at a local college, they ought to include this information.
The second way is to address this in the “Additional Information” section of your application. You can write about your school system and what it offers here to provide context that admissions officers otherwise would not have.
If you’re applying from Puerto Rico, many colleges and universities have familiarity with the Puerto Rican educational system. It will likely not be necessary for you to include additional information. If you’re applying from another U.S. territory, such as Guam or American Samoa, then it would probably be helpful to include information about your school system.
Your school counselor should be able to offer you additional advice about this situation. They ought to know whether it would be necessary for you to explain this part of your background, and if they believe that it is, they can provide that information for your application.
I’ve taken a few AP classes, but many honors and community college classes. Am I good when it comes to course rigor, or should I take more AP classes?
You should take more AP classes, especially if you’re going into your senior year. If you’re able to increase your course rigor without substantially hurting your grades, you should do so.
Unfortunately, colleges don’t place as much value on community college classes as they do on AP classes. This is not necessarily fair as there are many very rigorous community college classes. In general, however, colleges prefer to see that you’ve taken AP classes.
In Texas, schools offer a new AP equivalent called OnRamps. Should I mention in my essay that I opted for OnRamps in place of AP?
College essays provide you with more of an opportunity to develop your personality and share who you are. You shouldn’t mention this information in your essays.
Instead, you can write about this in the “Additional Information” section. You should also make sure that your school counselor describes this system in their recommendation so that admissions officers have further context.