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Do AP Scores Matter for College Admissions?

a student studies for the AP exam

Advanced Placement (AP) exams are a popular way for high school students to showcase their academic strengths and earn college credit. Performing well on these exams can set you apart from your peers and help round out your college application. In addition, taking an AP exam demonstrates your willingness to challenge yourself in rigorous coursework, which can be especially beneficial when applying to competitive colleges and universities.

But do you need AP test scores to get into college? If you're asking this question, you are not alone. With extracurriculars and other commitments, your time and energy are valuable. You want to make the most of your efforts. So, we will cover the role of AP exams in college admissions to give you an idea of their importance. We also provide advice from college advising expert and Founder of Parenting for College, Suzanne Shaffer. 

How AP Exam Scores are Used in College Admissions

Colleges and universities use AP exam scores as a factor in the admissions process, but they do so while considering them alongside the student's GPA, extracurricular activities, and other application information. Said differently, AP exam scores are just one factor in making admissions decisions. While strong AP exam scores can help your application, they are not the only factor that matters.

However, it's fair to note that more competitive schools, like Ivy League institutions, get many applicants who mainly took AP classes by their senior year and did well on the exams. So, understanding your peers and how you stack up against other applicants is also part of the equation.

It's also helpful to understand how admission committees will know you took AP classes or find out your exam scores. Here are the most common ways. 

AP Classes Will Be on Your Transcript

Admissions officers will see that you've challenged yourself with AP classes because they'll be listed on your transcript. 

It's generally recommended that by your junior year, you should take AP classes if they're available. Then, depending on the courses offered, many students take between two and five AP classes during their senior year. AP classes are designed to be challenging. So be ambitious, but know your limits.

Stellar grades in two or three AP classes will look better than average grades in five AP courses. Also, remember that sometimes you aren't required to sit for the AP test of every AP class you take.

AP Exam Scores Can Be Listed on an Application

AP test scores are usually self-reported by students. So, this gives you some flexibility in sharing them only if you feel they'll help your application. The general rule is only to report tests if you score a three or higher, especially if schools do not require AP tests. But, if you're applying to a selective school, that number should be a four or higher. 

Consider taking at least two AP tests by the end of your junior year. Reporting these scores on your application will be beneficial if you do well. The more AP tests you can take and succeed at, the better your application will look.

AP Scholar Awards Can Be Listed on an Application

AP Scholar Awards are granted to students who score above a certain threshold on a certain number of exams. Typically, you have to take at least 3 AP exams to qualify. Like good AP test scores, they're self-reported and will improve your application.

AP Scores for Used to Grant College Credit

High AP test scores might exempt you from specific general education or prerequisite classes, depending on your college or university. Likewise, exemptions are particular to each school, as receiving a three on your Calculus AB exam might qualify you at some schools, while others might require a 5.

Most school websites have a complete list of possible AP credits. Look at these lists for prospective colleges or universities before enrolling in AP classes in your junior and senior years. High AP exam scores can exempt you from collegiate courses you don't want to take, so scoring high on the AP test is worth the effort!

The Expert Opinion on AP Classes and Exams

With all this, you might still wonder if taking AP classes and tests is worth it. So we asked our friend and college advising expert Suzanne Shaffer. As the Founder of Parenting for College, Suzanne helps students and families navigate the college admissions maze, so she has plenty of experience with this topic. 

Suzanne told us, "High school students who wish to excel in academics in high school and ultimately in college-level courses should add AP classes to their course schedule. Taking AP courses communicates your ability to excel academically. In addition, successful an AP course means you can take an AP test afterward and earn college course credit." 

"Current research on AP course work confirms AP's comparability to introductory college courses in content, skills, and learning outcomes," Suzanne continues. "Research consistently shows that students earning placement into advanced course work based on AP Exam scores perform as well as — or better than — students who have completed the introductory course at a college or university. 

Students who succeed on an AP Exam during high school typically experience greater overall academic success in college and are more likely than their non-AP peers to graduate from college and graduate on time, experiencing lower college costs than the majority of American college students."

Final Thoughts on AP Scores in College Admissions

All evidence points to AP classes and test scores being a positive thing for students applying to college. Better yet, students taking AP classes and tests do better in college. 

If you plan on taking AP exams, it's essential to start preparing early. Study guides, practice exams, peer study groups, and online resources are available to help you prepare. You may also opt to take AP courses in high school to better prepare for the exams. These courses are designed to be college-level and can provide you with the skills and knowledge needed to succeed on the exams.

Find Your Acceptance Chances with Appily!

Now that you know if AP exam scores matter, you are one step closer to building an intelligent list of colleges for your future. But don't stop there.

Sign up for a free Appily account to find schools or learn your chances of getting accepted into any college or university. It's easy with our comprehensive and up-to-date database and online tools. 

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