How Important Are AP Scores for College Admissions?
Updated May 21, 2020
Due to COVID-19, 2020 AP exams are being held online during the month of May, with makeup exams in June. View the complete schedule here.
On their website, CollegeBoard shared that they’re confident that the majority of colleges and universities will still award credit and/or placement despite the different form of testing this year. They’re also reaching out to schools outside of the U.S. to be sure they’re aware of this year’s AP exam changes. You should still plan on sending your AP scores no later than July of your senior year.
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 classes, 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. To learn more about this section of your college application, see our post Do I Have to Self-Report My Test 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.
If you want to report AP scores, you should definitely report tests on which you received a five. While a single score of five on an AP exam isn’t necessarily impressive, 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. Fours are usually neither favorable nor unfavorable when you report them on an application.
If you only have a couple fours but have taken lots of AP courses, then you might actually not report any scores at all, especially if you’re applying to 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.
How Much Weight Will Your AP Scores Have In the Admissions Process?
The weight given to your AP scores will vary depending on a number of different factors. In general though, 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 applicants 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 highly recognizable ways.
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. Likewise, 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 the corresponding AP scores.
On the other hand, if you choose to report scores that are unimpressive, they could just as easily count against you in a competitive admissions process. Given the choice between two similar candidates, an admissions committee is probably more likely to select those who submit high scores or no scores at all, rather than students who submit dismal ones.
So, Do My AP Test Scores Really 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.
Just because AP scores are not necessarily a primary factor on college applications does not mean that AP classes are unimportant. In fact, at many selective colleges, you need to take the most challenging courses available at your high school in order to be considered a serious applicant.
In many cases this means taking AP classes if they are available at your school. While your score on the AP exam might not be reported, your grade in these classes definitely is, and your GPA is generally a primary factor on your college application. Remember, AP classes are designed to be college level work, so your performance in them is indicative of your ability to perform at the college level.
Furthermore, if you score well on your AP exams, you may be able to earn college credit or place out of lower level prerequisites when you start college. These policies vary from school to school but in general you can them available on the school website. Specific regulations can be found here.
To learn more about AP classes and course selection in general, see these posts:
- Can AP Tests Actually Save You Thousands of Dollars?
- Should I Take AP/IB/Honors Classes?
- How to Choose Which AP Courses and Exams to Take
- What If My School Doesn’t Offer AP or IB Courses?
- Are All APs Created Equal in Admissions?
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