How important are AP courses for college admissions?

This is the most frequently asked question of college admissions counselors: is it better to take a standard or specialty course and get an A, or take an AP course and get a B?

The answer, of course, is to take an AP course and get an A, but it’s not that simple. Before families decide which courses are best for their high school student, they need to understand what AP courses are, how they differ from standard and specialty-level courses, and whether they are worth taking. .

What is an AP class?

AP stands for Advanced Placement, a study and exam program created and operated by The College Board, the same company that provides the SAT. AP courses are taught by trained teachers in a standardized and more rigorous curriculum that the College Board says will equip students with skills in “time management, critical thinking and scholarly writing.”

At the end of an AP course, students are invited to take an exam which will be graded on a scale of 1 to 5, with scores of 3, 4 and 5 considered “passed”. Students may be able to convert these AP exam results into full or partial college credits with participating colleges and universities.

How are AP classes different from honor classes?

Why would colleges value AP courses on a student’s transcript? Former University of Pennsylvania admissions dean Eric J. Furda told TODAY Parents that the standardized curriculum and test scores can provide insight into a student’s academic situation.

“As there is no national curriculum in the United States like the French baccalaureate or the GCSE / A levels in the United Kingdom, there is huge variation in the courses and grading systems in American high schools,” said Furda, who recently co-wrote “The College Conversation.” “The courses can be classified as ‘college preparation’, standard, advanced or specialized.

This third-party standard provides AP and IB value courses, Furda said. “This can be important for admissions committees that may not be familiar with a particular high school and these courses can provide familiar context,” he said.

How important are AP courses?

If a school offers AP courses, taking them can be a valuable addition to a high school transcript, said Jeffrey Selingo, author of “Who Gets In and Why.”

“Advanced placement is considered more rigorous than standard courses or even specialty courses in most high schools,” he said. “As college admissions officials review applications, their biggest question is still whether the student can do the job on that particular campus.”

This is especially true in math and science, Selingo said, because AP classes can demonstrate that children are proficient in these subjects.

AP courses in core subjects such as calculus, physics, English, and composition might be considered more valuable in entrance exams than electives such as art history or science. psychology. The exams may not be “easier”, but the course content is considered less fundamental for college preparation.

How many AP courses must a student take?

AP courses are valued by colleges, but that doesn’t mean a student has to take as many as they can, Selingo said.

“Although AP courses are synonymous with better performance in college, research has shown that these improvements in college tend to level off for students after they take five AP courses,” he said. “In other words, taking eight or 10 AP courses doesn’t really influence student performance in college, and admissions officials know that.”

University of Virginia Associate Dean of Admissions Jeannine Lalonde wrote about it on her blog, “Peabody’s Notes.”

“A lot of people want to know how many AP courses a student would have to take to be competitive in our process,” she wrote. “We don’t approach nominations that way. First of all, not everyone goes to a school with optional PAs. Second, some schools limit the number of AP courses a student can take. Third, with the number of AP courses on offer these days, you can accumulate a lot of AP in a single subject. There may be students with a large number of PAs who have never taken an advanced course in several core areas. “

What’s better: AP or double registration?

As Lalonde put it in a TikTok video, colleges will rely on a school’s profile, written by the administration or board team, to understand whether AP courses or dual enrollment courses – which are taught by community college or university teachers, for high school and college credit – are more rigorous in this particular school.

After spending time at multiple admissions offices, Salingo said the AP and International Baccalaureate classes generally have the advantage over dual enrollment.

“AP and International Baccalaureate (IB) are considered more rigorous by many colleges because they are assessed by national organizations,” he said. “Dual enrollment courses offered by local colleges are viewed by some admissions officials as more unequal and depend on the institution offering them.”

But the value of dual enrollment classes goes beyond college admissions; they can have an impact on a student’s education by broadening their choices. “Dual enrollment courses at a local college can help expand the offerings of high-level courses in languages, math, and science (among others) to a local school district,” Furda said. “Miami-Dade County in Florida is leveraging local college with Miami Public Schools to expand course offerings.”

What if my school does not offer a PA?

Some school districts and independent schools design their own courses instead of offering AP or IB. These courses can be just as rigorous, and schools will make it clear to colleges.

Students whose high schools do not offer PA will not be at a disadvantage, as each college reviews transcripts in this context. The vast majority of colleges also do not review AP exam results in admissions. With the exception of highly selective universities, most colleges only use AP exam results to determine credits and class placement.

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