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Duke University
Duke University
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Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


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How Much Do AP Scores Matter?

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While struggling through the demanding work of an AP class, you may be wondering if it is worth taking such a difficult course. And when you finally get the exam grade back, you might be concerned — is it high enough to get you into your dream college?


Despite the appearance that each and every score, word, thought, and grade matters on your college application, AP scores actually do not matter that much, other than helping admissions committees determine the difficulty level of your high school’s AP courses and how you met that challenge.


Admissions committees also look at other factors like your class rank to determine the rigor of your courses (for more information on the use of class rank, check out our CollegeVine guide What Class Rank Do I Need to Get Into a Top School?).


In fact, you do not even have to report your AP scores — they are not required on almost all applications. Unlike SAT and ACT scores, you cannot pick and choose which AP scores to send. This means that you cannot control which scores colleges see — they either receive your high scores, your low scores, and all in between, or none at all. So, it is important to carefully consider whether or not you want to send them.


AP Scores as a Standardizing Tool

Even scores that are not high but are reported are not considered a make-or-break factor. Instead of reflecting on you as an individual, your AP scores are more important as a standardization tool in measuring the rigor of classes at different high schools. In other words, they help give college admissions committees an idea of how difficult or easy the AP courses offered at your high school are.


If you want to learn more about how grade inflation and deflation occurs in high school courses and how it affects your GPA, check out our CollegeVine blog post Guide to Grade Inflation and Deflation. And for information about how it factors into your college applications, check out our guide Do Schools Take Grade Inflation and Deflation Into Account?


How do schools use AP scores as a standardization tool?

If you receive an A in an AP class at your high school, for example, but then receive a score of 2 on the AP test, colleges conclude that either the class was extremely easy or that you did not study for the test. In either case, the score says something about who you are as a student.


If the score is low because the class was not demanding, it is less impressive that you took the AP exam because the class you excelled in clearly was not as challenging as the material it is supposed to teach. Alternatively, a low score could also suggest that you just did not care about the test and did not study, which suggests to colleges a lack of dedication and eagerness to learn on your part.


Should You Send Your Scores?

So, while AP scores do not matter that much in getting you into college, you should think carefully about sending them if you got low scores — any score under a three — because that could hurt your chances of being admitted.


On the other hand, if you score well on the test — receiving a 4 or 5 — but get a B in the class, this shows that the class was extremely challenging, despite your mastery of the material according to the AP exam grading rubric. This demonstrates that you understood the material and were in a challenging course, and may be viewed in a more forgiving light by admissions committees, as they are looking for students who take on intellectual challenges.


AP Scores for College Credit

AP scores may not be very important in the application process, but after you are admitted they can help you gain college credit if you wish to skip introductory level classes that you might otherwise have to take. With sufficient AP scores, you can place out of certain classes, which can help you get into higher level classes faster and graduate sooner, sometimes in less than four years. Or, you may have more room for electives instead of general education requirements.

AP Score Awards

Finally, if you score high enough on the AP exams, you can get awards that may help in the application process. These are the AP Scholar awards, which anyone who scores a 3 or above on three or more exams can receive. With even higher scores, you can get it “with honor” or “with distinction.” The AP Scholar awards are explained in detail in this CollegeVine guide: What Are AP Scholar Awards? Unlike the low score, which will not “break” your application, a noted high AP score could contribute positively and “make” your application. It can only help you!


What Matters Most When it Comes To AP Scores

To summarize, while high AP scores can help your application, low ones will not hurt it in a substantial way, so you should not get too wrapped up in worrying about the details of the scores.


What matters most is the big picture — that you are a serious and committed student and that it shows in all areas of your application. Study hard for your AP exams and AP courses to get high grades and scores, but also remember that there are other aspects of your application that will illustrate who you are as a student.


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Julia Mearsheimer
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Julia Mearsheimer attends the University of Chicago. She is considering majoring in Philosophy, South Asian Languages and Civilizations, or Political Science, but remains undecided. In addition to writing, she enjoys listening to Nina Simone and baking bread.