AP Scores in College Admissions: Do They Really Matter?

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?

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.

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 reportto 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.

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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