How do AP scores factor into getting credit in university?

How do AP scores factor into getting credit in university?

- Ritesh in Oakland, CA

Hey Ritesh, Great question! Most students know that taking AP courses and excelling in them show colleges you’re ready for college-level academics. Many students don’t know how AP courses actually function once you’re in college. I’m happy to walk you through that today and help our readers learn along the way.

First, the basics. What is an AP course? A college-level academic course given to high schoolers with the option of passing a national examination at the end of the course to earn college credit.

A sampling of all AP courses and exams offered by College Board, the company that administers AP. Taken from the AP website, December 2018.

If your school does not offer an AP course, you can still take the AP exam in May. You will likely have to find another high school that offers the exam, register for the exam, and self-study. If you self-study and do well on the exam, you will have the option of taking fewer classes to graduate college (and graduating earlier) or skipping intro-level classes (and advancing quicker to upper-level, specialized college classes). If you only take the AP class at school and do not take the nationally-administered AP exam at the end of the school year, you will not earn any college credit. Please keep this in mind.

I did this as a high schooler. I self-studied for an AP test that my high school did not offer, drove an hour to another high school to take the exam, earned a 5, and used that credit to fulfill college graduation requirements after I got into Northwestern.

The test is graded on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the highest. A score of 3 is considered passing and equates to earning a C on an intro-level college course. Most colleges, however, will only grant you credit for scores of 4 or 5. Highly selective, rigorous colleges will only grant credit or allow you to skip over intro-level courses with a score of 5. Some schools will even grant waivers for scores of 1 or 2, permitting you to skip over those classes simply because you attempted (and failed) the AP exam. These are typically state schools.

How do you figure out how each of the colleges on your list will recognize your AP scores? Will you get any credit for the AP exams you passed? Should you aim for a 3 because you’ll get the same college credits as your peers who earned a 5?

I’ll answer that below.

First, I’ll walk you all through my personal experience and then do a case study using different schools as an example.

The easiest way to figure out how AP scores factor into getting college is by either 1) going to the AP credit score policy page and typing in the specific universities you have in mind or 2) going to your university website and searching AP scores. Although the second option (going to the university website) might be more time-consuming, it’s more likely to be updated and detailed.

Let’s use Northwestern University as our first example then we'll check out Brown University, Harvard, UC Berkeley ending with takeaways and advice on avoiding comon pitfalls.

On the AP website, the Northwestern score distribution looks like this.

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