If Hamlet was applying to College today, he’d sure as hell be going through the dilemma. Of course, this contemplation would be in between visitations from his dearly departed ghost dad, his distracting depressed girlfriend, managing his kingdom and SAT / ACT prep classes and extracurriculars.
For the uninitiated, AP stands for Advanced Placement, an examination that takes place in May each year and is offered in a number of different subjects – 37 subjects as of 2016. It’s graded from 1 to 5, 5 being the highest. The results of these exams are widely accepted and since they are considered “college-level” are used by colleges for college credit AFTER a student has been admitted.
“That’s awesome!” You say. Sounds all great. So why the question in the first place?
To quote, an Ivy League Admissions Officer in New Delhi in Fall 2015 “College Board has done a great job of convincing people that everyone NEEDS to take the AP Exams. Just so you know, we don’t consider just the exams for admissions!”
A little History: Well, the reason these programs were created in the U.S. and Canada was to allow really high-performing students an opportunity to challenge themselves with difficult courses.
So colleges got super pumped seeing the results from students who took the courses because that told them that
1) the student spent a full year challenging himself
2) this was the grade this student got because they took an AP instead of regular class, so really, it was part of the transcript
“More good stuff. Right?”
Well… here is the thing. Schools in India (besides a few international schools), don’t offer AP classes, so taking the exam doesn’t have the same value for students who don’t take the course.
“This is confusing. Let’s do pros and cons now!”
1) College Credit: You know by now that strong performances on the AP exam allow you to bypass entirely some required college courses. (This assumes you have achieved a 4 or a 5.) This means you can take a lighter load, skip classes, do something else with the extra time like take a class on cave paintings.
2) Alternative Transcript: Not a COMPLETELY alternative transcript, but supposing you come from a school that is incredibly difficult and has very harsh grading (class topper gets a 70%) the AP can help mitigate that a little.
3) Exhibit Interest: SAT Subject Tests are available in 20 subjects (12 in languages) while, on the other hand, APs are offered in 37 subjects (6 in languages other than English). So if you’re interested in Economics or Psychology, you can show your understanding and expertise through an AP
1) Time: May seems ideal, summer vacation time! You know what else is in May? SATs and SAT Subject Tests. With ACT quickly following in June. And those you actually REQUIRE for admission. AP Exams are frills at best. Repeat after me: AP Exams are Frills!
2) Time: Yeah, I used the same point because time is that vital in the college admissions process. Colleges want to see you use your time well. If you use the time studying for an exam that you could have used for an internship, an extracurricular or even a research project, Admissions Officers would find that far more valuable.
To quote another Top 10 College Admissions Officer “If you have the time to take the exam for kicks, for god sake, do something valuable like save the world instead!”
3) Value: Like I said before, one exam on one day is less valuable than a year’s worth of progress. Same reason why Admissions Officers value GPA more than the SAT is the same reason that the AP Exams alone hold almost no value compared to the AP classes and grades for a year.
4) Money: This may be more of a parental concern, but AP Exams don’t come cheap. At $92 per exam they are MUCH more expensive than $26 for each SAT Subject Test. This doesn’t include score reports and god knows what else for (repeat after me) frills.
5) Skipping the Intro Classes: You would think this was a pro, but subtly, it may be a con. You leave school thinking you’re at the top of the class and enter a college where EVERYONE is at the top of the class. The intro classes and simpler grades are a boon when you’re learning to adjust to a college curriculum and trying to maintain a good GPA.
So, AP or not AP? No, if you don’t have your basics in place – SAT, SAT Subject Tests, Extracurriculars etc. but Yes, if you’re all set with the necessities and can afford the steep cost of time and money.