What are your chances of acceptance?

Your chance of acceptance
Duke University
Duke University
Your chancing factors
Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

How Important Are AP Scores for College Admissions?

What’s Covered: 


As college admissions become increasingly competitive, any possible edge can seem like it might be the difference between a coveted acceptance or a dreaded rejection. Grades, standardized test scores, extracurriculars, and more may all seem to be the highest of stakes.


When it comes to AP exams, you might wonder if this is the factor that might tip the college admissions game in your favor. In this post, we’ll outline just how important your AP classes are in college admissions, and the answer may surprise you. Do admissions committees even look at your scores? How much do they actually matter? To learn more, keep reading.


Will Colleges Look at AP Scores for Admissions?


Typically, AP scores don’t go on your college application. Because they don’t count towards your GPA or become a part of your transcript, there isn’t actually any place on the application where they are required.


There is, however, a place on most college applications where you have the option to report these scores yourself. This process is called self-reporting. In this section, you can self-report any scores from standardized testing, including AP scores. 


Since this section of your application is optional, you do not have to report AP scores. In fact, if you choose to do so, you can also choose specifically which scores you submit. You should base this decision on the selectivity of the school you’re applying to. 


If you want to report AP scores, you should definitely report tests on which you received a five, and for many schools, a four is also very impressive. Only for highly selective schools should you consider not reporting a four. For these extremely selective schools, a single score of five on an AP exam isn’t necessarily impressive, but a string of fives might help to set you apart from other candidates. A score of four is less impressive, but it still shows a relatively strong understanding of the material. 


If you only have a couple fours but have taken lots of AP courses, then you might actually not report any scores at all if you’re applying to especially selective schools. Reporting just a couple fours will only draw more attention to your “missing” scores, and won’t help your application.


At less selective schools, a variety of fours and fives will set you apart. Scores of three or lower aren’t usually enough to give you any edge in admissions and might even have an negative impact on your application. These are best left off when you self-report your scores.


Ultimately, you should be prepared for the admissions committee to review everything on your college application, including self-reported scores. While they may not be as important as other required portions of the application, they may sometimes serve to set you apart when admissions committees need to choose between two or more applicants.


There is always the option to get an official score report from the College Board, but there is an official fee attached. Since it is more expensive, and schools don’t require this official report, we recommend self-reporting your scores instead. 


How Much Weight Will My AP Scores Have In the Admissions Process?


In general, you should not consider AP scores as a make it or break it factor in your admissions process. That being said, at very selective schools, admissions committees always receive applications from far more qualified students than they have places for in the incoming class. Due to this high level of competition, successful applicants will need to distinguish themselves in as many ways as possible.


A series of perfect AP scores can be one example of your academic prowess. If you are applying to a general studies program, you can show your ability to achieve across multiple subject areas by scoring well on a variety of AP exams. Or, if you’re applying to a specialized program or under a specific major, you can demonstrate your level of knowledge in that field by submitting AP scores in the corresponding subject(s).


In some situations, an admissions officer will expect to see superior results on certain AP tests. If you’re applying as a Math major, you should be getting fives on Math APs. Less than perfect scores on the subject that you’re applying to study may hurt your chances, so carefully weigh the decision to send a score of four. 


If you choose to report scores that are unimpressive, they could easily count against you in a competitive admissions process. As decisions come down to the wire, an admissions committee is probably more likely to select students who submit high scores or no scores at all, rather than those who submit mediocre ones.


In a holistic admissions process, there is much to consider, from GPA to test scores to essays and extracurriculars. With the wide variety of materials you’re submitting, AP test scores rank pretty low on the list of major factors. The best way to think about and utilize AP scores is to highlight a particular passion or interest in a certain subject. Combined with applying to a certain major, high test scores and grades in a subject, or extracurriculars devoted to an academic field, AP scores help underscore excellence already exhibited in your application.  


Do AP Classes in General Matter?


AP test scores are not generally a highly weighted component of your college application, but if you choose to submit them, they will generally be reviewed by the admissions committee. The amount of weight they are given will vary by school, and in general the more competitive the admissions process is, the more these smaller factors might play a role in distinguishing between similar candidates.


However, just because AP scores are not usually a focal point for admissions officers does not mean that AP classes are unimportant. In fact, at many selective colleges, course rigor is one of the most crucial factors considered during the admissions process. At such schools, if AP courses are the most challenging ones available at your school, you’ll generally want to take as many as possible to be considered a serious applicant.


While your score on the AP exam might not be reported, your enrollment in the class definitely is, as is your GPA, both of which can have a major impact on your chances of acceptance. Remember, AP classes are designed to be college level work, so taking them and doing well in them throughout the year is far more indicative of your ability to perform at the college level than your score on just a single exam.


How to Calculate Your Odds of Acceptance


Since your AP scores are unlikely to swing your candidacy one way or another, you may be wondering how the other, more crucial aspects of your application stack up at your dream schools.


To answer that question, check out CollegeVine’s free chancing engine. It takes into account just about every element of your application (other than your interview, letters of recommendation, and essays, which aren’t quantifiable), including your grades, course rigor, SAT/ACT scores (if you have them), and extracurriculars, to give you personalized odds of acceptance at all of your top choice schools.


Our admissions calculator can also give you suggestions for how to boost your chances of acceptance—for example, by taking more AP classes in your junior or senior year.

Kate Sundquist
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.