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So Your School Doesn’t Offer APs—Should You Still Take AP Exams?

May 8, 2024

Advanced Placement courses are offered at thousands of high schools across the U.S.—approximately 35% of public high school graduates in the Class of 2023 took at least one AP exam, and approximately 2.8 million students sat for AP exams in 2023. However, a large number of schools do not offer AP courses. In many cases, this is due to a lack of resources—though strides have been made to increase access to AP courses in underprivileged schools, a gap in access persists along racial and socioeconomic lines. In other cases, schools are ditching the AP curriculum as a result of their educational philosophy. In 2018, elite private schools in the D.C. area such as Sidwell Friends and Georgetown Prep announced their intention to phase out AP classes, citing their desire for a more independent curriculum and a growing frustration with the AP’s orientation toward testing rather than other metrics for success.

Despite these drawbacks, AP courses and exams remain highly regarded by many colleges and universities, as they offer insight into students’ academic acumen and potential to complete college coursework successfully. As a result, many students without access to AP courses are left wondering whether they should still register, study and sit for AP exams.

First and foremost, students should know that colleges and universities evaluate their applications in the context of their school and the opportunities available to them. This means that if students did not have AP classes available to them at their schools, admissions officers will not expect to see AP courses or AP exam scores included in their applications. As such, these students’ applications will not be disadvantaged in any way by not including AP exams.

That being said, there are some scenarios in which a student may still wish to take an AP exam despite not having taken an AP course. These are the top three reasons that students might consider sitting for one or more AP exams:

1. To Earn College Credit

One of the main reasons students take AP exams is to earn college credit. Many colleges and universities grant credit for high AP exam scores (typically for 4s or 5s). By earning credit through AP exams, you may be able to fulfill prerequisites, skip introductory courses, or accelerate your progress toward graduation once you enroll in college. However, this is not the case at every school. In order to determine whether the time and effort you will put into studying and taking an AP exam will be justified, you should research whether the schools you are considering applying to give college credit for high AP exam scores. You can often find this information on admissions or departmental websites, or by contacting admissions representatives at each respective school. You can also check the College Board website to see if the schools on your list accept AP credits, but note that these policies change frequently, so you should still follow up with the schools for verification. If a handful of the schools on your list do accept high scores for credit, it may be a strategic choice to sit for one or more exam.

2. To Use Exam Scores in Lieu of the SAT or ACT

As Ivy League and other top schools reinstate their standardized testing requirements, some schools have announced their intention to allow students to submit test scores from AP examinations in place of ACT or SAT scores. Dartmouth allows students applying from schools outside of the U.S. to satisfy their testing requirement by submitting three AP exam scores. Meanwhile, Yale’s new test-flexible policy also allows students applying domestically to submit AP and IB scores in lieu of other standardized tests. If you are applying internationally or if you have reason to believe that you will achieve a stronger score on AP exams than on the SAT or ACT, you can consider sitting for the exams. Note that not all schools have such flexible testing policies, so you will likely still need to sit for the SAT or the ACT.

3. To Demonstrate Your Academic Abilities

It is important to remember that while they are not the only way to demonstrate their academic capabilities, AP exams are an unbiased and quantifiable way to assess students’ preparedness for college coursework. Students who struggled academically earlier in their high school years or who want to highlight their skills in a specific discipline may benefit from the inclusion of AP scores in their applicant profiles.

Finally, while students who do not have access to AP classes should consider their options and make a strategic decision about taking exams on the basis of their applicant profiles and academic goals, students who have taken AP courses absolutely should take AP exams. Failing to sit for the exams will not only foreclose the possibility of earning college credit, but it will also reflect poorly on your application and raise questions with admissions committees.

Originally posted on Forbes.

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