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AP Scores in College Admissions: Do They Really Matter?

Posted by Ellen McCammon | Mar 2, 2017 12:00:00 PM

Advanced Placement (AP), College Admissions

 

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Since you put so much effort into studying for and taking AP tests, you’ve likely wondered whether colleges look at AP scores. How is all of your AP prep and effort going to affect your chances of admission to college?

In this guide, we'll illuminate the relationship between AP scores and college admission. We’ll also discuss how important AP scores are for your application, how colleges consider these scores, and what being an AP Scholar can mean for your admission chances.

 

Do Colleges Look at AP Scores?

There are two issues to address when we consider the connection between AP scores and college admission. First, do colleges even look at your AP scores when you apply? Secondly, if they do look, how much do they actually care about your scores?

 

Do Colleges Look at AP Scores for Admission?

While you don't typically need to send official AP score reports to colleges you're applying to, some schools will have space on their applications for you to self-report your AP scores. And if your scores are on your application, admissions committees will see them. Similarly, if you have any low AP scores you'd prefer admissions committees not see, you don't have to (and shouldn't) report them on your application.

But of the AP scores you do report, how much weight do they have in the admissions process?

 

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Is it more or less than the weight of these three apples? 

 

Do Colleges Care About AP Scores?

As with many college-admissions related questions, the answer to this question is, "It depends." However, as a general rule, your AP exam scores aren’t going to be a major make-or-break factor in whether you get into a college or not.

High AP scores will definitely work in your favor, though they’re far from the most important factor (test scores, transcripts, and your personal statement are all much more critical). Particularly high AP scores (i.e., 5s in a variety of subjects) may be helpful for very selective institutions where every bit of edge to differentiate you from other elite students can count.

Similarly, low AP scores (i.e., 1 or 2) can be a red flag to selective institutions. This is especially true if there’s a lot of inconsistency between your AP scores and your grades in AP classes. If you have consistently high grades but low test scores, this can indicate to colleges that there’s grade inflation at your high school. However, because you’re probably going to self-report your AP scores anyway, there’s nothing wrong with simply not reporting one or two scores you’re not satisfied with.

Another situation in which colleges will look more closely at your AP scores is if you submit AP scores to a test-flexible school. These types of schools give you several options for what kinds of standardized test scores you can submit with your application. You might be able to substitute SAT or ACT scores with scores from AP tests, IB exams, or SAT Subject Tests. If you’re sitting on some 5s, this might be an appealing option!

For example, at NYU you can submit three AP exam scores to fulfill the university's standardized testing requirement. The University of Rochester also allows you to use AP exam scores as your primary test scores for admission.

If you're using AP exams as your standardized test scores, you'll most likely need to send in an official AP score report to that school as opposed to just self-reporting. Your official AP score report normally includes all test scores, but you can pay extra to withhold particular scores if you don’t want the college to see those.

 

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Like these dancers, you can use flexibility to your advantage! 

 

How Much Do AP Courses Matter for College?

The fact that your AP exam scores aren’t a critical factor in college admission does not mean that AP courses are not important. While your actual slate of scores on exams is only of middling importance, AP classes themselves can be very important.

This is because one of the most significant factors in the college admissions process—especially at selective schools—is your transcript. Colleges want to see evidence that you were able to excel in difficult classes in high school, so it’s critical that you take a rigorous class schedule, which at many high schools will include AP classes.

If your school prioritizes the IB program or doesn’t offer any AP or IB classes, colleges will take this into account. Nonetheless, selective institutions expect you to take the most difficult classes available to you. This also means that it’s perfectly fine to take AP classes and not necessarily take the exam for each class.

However, if you do take AP exams, another potential advantage is that you can sometimes earn college credit and/or skip prerequisite courses with your scores. Public schools almost always offer college credit for high scores for at least some exams. Selective private schools are less likely to offer credit for individual exams. Some schools, such as Harvard, even let you bundle AP credits so you can graduate in six to seven semesters and pursue a master’s degree your fourth year.

As you can see, many colleges will let you use high AP scores to bypass prerequisites and get to more interesting advanced classes more quickly!

 

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Fly past those prerequisites!

 

Does It Matter If You’re an AP Scholar?

The AP Scholar program gives honorary awards (meaning there’s no money involved) to students who meet certain score thresholds on certain numbers of AP exams. There are various award levels associated with particular scores and numbers of exams. For instance, you'd win an AP Scholar award if you got 3+ on three exams and a National AP Scholar award if you got 4+ on eight or more AP exams.

In general, these awards aren’t going to make much of a difference in college admissions. The awards themselves really just communicate in shorthand how you did on your AP tests, and colleges will already have access to that information if you report your AP scores to them. In this sense, an AP Scholar award is not giving any new information to the school.

The AP International Diploma program (created for students interested in going to college abroad) is similar. You’ll receive the diploma automatically once you meet the requirements. Again, though, since you'll likely be reporting your test scores, the diploma doesn’t provide schools with additional information.

 

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It's not the most important diploma you'll receive in your life.

 

The Bottom Line: Do Colleges Look at AP Scores?

Colleges typically ask students to self-report their AP scores on applications. As a result, they will see any scores you choose to report (and won't see any you choose not to report).

The follow-up question, then, is this: do colleges care about AP scores? Although AP scores are far from the most important part of your application, high scores can act in your favor, whereas a number of low scores can be a red flag. This is especially true at selective schools.

However, taking AP classes themselves (if they are offered at your school) are an important way to demonstrate that you’re taking the most rigorous schedule available to you—a quality that’s extremely important to selective institutions in the admissions process.

Finally, AP exam scores can sometimes get you college credit or allow you to skip prerequisite classes in college. Not all schools do this, so be sure to check with the colleges you're applying to!

 

What’s Next?

If you need more information on the complete college application process, we've got you covered. We offer expert advice on the college application timeline, how many colleges you should apply to, and how to do college research to find the right schools for you!

Looking to learn more about AP exams? We explain how to prepare for AP exams, what you need to know in order to ace your APs on test day, and whether you should retake an AP test

 

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:

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Ellen McCammon
About the Author

Ellen has extensive education mentorship experience and is deeply committed to helping students succeed in all areas of life. She received a BA from Harvard in Folklore and Mythology and is currently pursuing graduate studies at Columbia University.



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