There has long been a rumor circulating that Advanced Placement tests offer little value for students planning to attend highly selective colleges. In this article, we look at the current AP test policies of several highly selective colleges.
While APs are common throughout most U.S. public and private high schools, there is a trend of some elite high schools moving away from an emphasis on AP curriculum and testing. Some high schools find that the AP curriculum is overly restrictive of teachers and fosters a teaching-to-the-test philosophy that is at odds with quality education. Others argue the AP program operated by the College Board helps equalize opportunity and access to challenging courses for U.S. students.
High Schools and Colleges Dropping APs
There have been a few notable US colleges that have dropped credits for AP exams. These schools include Brown, Dartmouth, Caltech, Amherst, and Williams. Students applying to these colleges may still find the colleges recognize the rigor of their AP high school work for admissions purposes, but they do not grant credits for AP exams. In some instances, APs may also still be used to determine placement for some subjects.
While there are colleges that do not offer AP credits, some students may be surprised to learn that the majority of public and private colleges in the U.S. continue to offer credit for APs. Each college sets their own individual polices for awarding credit and they often revise these policies annually.
AP Background and Scores
AP test scores are on a scale from 1-5. Some colleges offer credit for scores of 3, 4, or 5. Some only offer credits for higher scores of 4 or 5. Colleges typically look at how the AP curriculum lines up with the expectations for each of their college department’s introductory courses. There are AP tests available in every core subject area (math, English, science, social science, foreign language) as well as in specialized subjects such as computer science, art, and music theory.
AP Credit Policies
In order to evaluate the value of APs for earning college credit, I decided to survey credit policies for one AP course at several highly selective colleges. BC Calculus is a test taken by over 100,000 students each year. The course covers roughly the content of two semesters of college calculus. Let’s look at the credit value of BC Calculus at several highly selective colleges. (Survey conducted 2/2021.)
Listed below: College name, minimum AP score to earn credit, credits awarded.
- Middlebury 3 = 1 credit, 4 or 5 = 2 credits (two courses)
- Cornell 4 or 5 = 8 credits
- NYU 4 = 4 credits, 5 =8 credits (two courses)
- Carnegie Mellon 5 = 20 credits (two courses)
- Duke 4 or 5 = placement, meets requirements
- Stanford 4 = 8 credits, 5 = 10 credits (three courses)
- Yale 4 = 1 credit, 5 = 2 credits
- Northwestern 4 = 3 credits (two courses)
- UCLA 3 = 8 credits
The number of credits varies based on the individual credit system of each college. For BC Calculus, students who earn strong scores are often receiving one to two semesters worth of math credit. This survey confirms that many highly selective colleges continue to value the AP curriculum and to award credit to students who earn strong scores on AP tests. Students in some majors will find this will fully meet their math requirements during college.
Some exams are considered more rigorous and are more likely to earn credit than those in some other subject areas. Each college decides the way they will use these credits. Some universities exempt students from core requirements, some offer general credits, and some determine the type and amount of credits awarded based on student performance in subsequent courses. Colleges are also allowed to set their own caps on the total number of AP credits that can be used toward a college degree. In these situations students may find they hit limits of credits after four or five qualifying AP scores.
Whether AP scores result in less time in college or not, many homeschoolers find them helpful in demonstrating “outside validation” of the student’s transcript. AP scores can provide a standardized measure of academic achievement which may make admissions officers more comfortable admitting students with an unconventional transcript. Particularly with the discontinuation of SAT subject tests, APs are likely to remain an important option for students to consider.