As you fill out the Common App and submit applications to every school on your list, you are likely finding that most of your time has been consumed by essays, essays, and more essays. But a college application is more than just essays.

Indeed, there are other components that you might not have given much thought to yet, like AP score reporting. As such, we’re providing a few tips on how to handle AP scores on your Common App.

The main thing to remember about AP scores on your Common App is that they are completely self-reported. This may seem like just a simple logistical detail, but it’s actually quite important to understanding the application process because it implies a lot about the relative importance of AP scores. While AP scores are self-reported, colleges require your SAT/ACT scores and transcript to be officially verified by the College Board and your high school respectively – this level of “security” means that they will carry significantly more weight than AP scores. Case in point? AP scores aren’t really something to stress out about.

That’s not to say that you can pick and choose which scores you decide to send. If you send only five stellar test scores and take eight AP classes, colleges are going to assume that your other three grades weren’t amazing, especially if your grade in the class wasn’t high. So, what do you do if your scores are low? Is it time to get worried? There answer is not necessarily – here’s why:

First, if you have only a few bad scores on an otherwise perfect streak of 5’s, you should have received a few accolades from College Board. They offer a series of certificates or honors for performance on AP exams called AP Scholar Awards. If you haven’t received one, and you think you should have, check here to see if you qualify:

AP Scholar 3+ on three or more exams
AP Scholar with Honor Average score of 3.25+ and 3+ on four or more exams
AP Scholar with Distinction Average score of 3.5+ and 3+ on five or more exams
State AP Scholar One male and one female in each state with 3+ on the greatest number of exams and then the highest average score
National AP Scholar Average score of 4 and 4+ on eight or more exams


This accolade can go in the awards section of your Common App to show to schools that you have taken a certain number of AP tests and have been successful at them.

Secondly, if you attend a rigorous high school and you have bad AP scores but good grades in the corresponding classes, realize that your transcript will usually carry more weight. However, if your high school isn’t well known and doesn’t typically send multiple students to Ivy League institutions, your AP score will likely get a second look as colleges typically use AP scores as a way to understand the rigor of a high school’s classes. See the next paragraph for tips on how to handle this. Overall, there isn’t much you can do in this situation but report the bad scores.

Third, bad AP scores can be countered with good SAT II scores. If you get a 2 on your AP Chemistry Exam, consider buckling down for the Chemistry SAT II. A good score will definitely reflect well on your capacity to be successful at Chemistry, and it will also show that you are persistent and willing to put in the work to master a difficult topic.

Fourth, many of your top choice schools won’t take your AP credits anyway. A majority of top tier schools don’t use AP exams for anything other than placement. Although you may receive credit at some institutions, there are usually some requirements or prerequisites that AP scores just won’t cover. Make sure that you look into the way that your top schools handle AP credits before taking an excessive quantity of exams.

Even given all of this, AP tests are not to be discounted when you decide how you want to handle your high school years. Taking APs, both courses and exams, can be extremely valuable to both your college application and to your ability to be successful in college courses later on. If AP exams don’t go exactly as you planned, however, rest assured that there are many other aspects of an application that will change the way colleges perceive you.