Are AP Tests Used in College Admissions?

Hi again, Magoosh readers! So you have some AP scores, and are wondering what to do with them.  Maybe you’re new to the AP game, and want to know if all the hard work is worth it. No matter your reasons, you’ve come to the right place. In this article we’ll explore how AP tests are used in college admissions.


Are AP Tests Used in College Admissions? -Magoosh

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Since its inception in 1955, the Advanced Placement program has offered students in the U.S. and Canada the ability to earn college credit in a variety of subjects. In the proceeding decades, AP scores have become an important part of students’ college applications, especially at competitive schools across the nation.

Even though AP scores aren’t directly evaluated by most schools in admissions (and no college or university requires them), you can include ACT scores on your application to bolster your resume. AP scores become more important after you are admitted when it comes to course placement and course credit.


Grades vs. AP Tests

Notice how the title of this article uses the word ‘tests’ rather than ‘classes.’ Though earning good grades in an AP course will bump your GPA, AP scores are what college admissions counselors want to see in your application package. No matter what the score is (we’ll break that down in a minute), taking the test means that a student ‘completed’ the course.


AP Scores: 5 and 4

According to the College Board, earning a 5 on an AP exam indicates that the student is ‘extremely well qualified’ in a subject, while a 4 indicates ‘well qualified.’ In short, these are the scores colleges are looking for. Why?

Well, for you it’s a no-brainer: money. Placing out of intro level or remedial courses means that you can begin college at your ability level. That means less money out of pocket, and perhaps graduating early. For a college, accepting students will high AP scores means less bodies already packed into already crowded freshmen courses.

For many colleges, though, accepting a lot of students with high AP scores is like an insurance policy. A high AP score indicates knowledge, yes, but it also shows that a student has the grit and determination to succeed. Those are the students that not only graduate college, but are a positive influence on their school. So, you see, there’s a lot more behind that AP score than you might have thought.


AP Scores: 3, 2, and 1

It’s very rare to receive credit for a course with these AP scores. Yet do they play a role in college admissions? It’s complicated, but let me show you how the same score on the same AP test can mean two entirely different things to an admissions counselor.

Jamie goes to Brownwell Academy, a private school in the good part of town. Brownwell has offered AP for ten years. Jamie made good grades in her AP European History class, but only made a 3 on the AP test. Many of her classmates made 4s and 5s.

Across town there’s Bill. His public school just started an AP program, and the teacher is new to both teaching and AP. Bill struggled in his AP European History class, but he made a 3 on the AP test. His classmates made only 1s and 2s.

So, in our story, which student’s 3 is better than the other? If you guessed Bill, you’re right. In short, Bill excelled when compared to his peer group, while Jamie fell behind. Though most colleges would not give Bill credit for his 3, his application has a much higher chance making it to the ‘Yes’ pile.


Final Thoughts

Even if you have a lot of high AP scores when applying to your dream school, don’t be surprised if you have to take a few extra placement tests after you’re accepted to the college of your dreams. With so many students taking AP, colleges are worried that students with 4s and 5s cannot succeed in college-level classes. When researching colleges, pay close attention to their policies on AP tests.

The AP world may be a complicated place to navigate, but doing your best in AP is always worth it. Good luck!


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  • Thomas Broderick

    Thomas spent four years teaching high school English, social studies, and ACT preparation in Middle Tennessee. Now living in Northern California, he is excited to share his knowledge and experience with Magoosh's readers. In his spare time Thomas enjoys writing short fiction and hiking in the Sonoma foothills.

By the way, Magoosh can help you study for both the SAT and ACT exams. Click here to learn more!

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