Preparing for College

Advanced Standing through AP Exams and Pre-College Credit

Question: My son, now a high school sophomore, will have completed 7-8 AP courses and 7-9 college courses by the time he graduates. If we assume high scores on AP exams and A’s in courses, how are selective colleges likely to consider these credits? He’d like to complete college in three years. Are there any general practices among colleges regarding their granting of credit?

You ask good questions, and, unfortunately, there are no easy answers. Policies that cover the way AP credits are considered vary from college to college and, sometimes even from department to department within an institution. The same is true of college classes taken prior to formal matriculation.


Typically, elite colleges are only interested in scores of 4 or 5 on AP exams. (Some less selective schools recognize a 3). In most cases, students can fulfill requirements and/or select a class beyond the introductory level after earning a 4 or 5 in an AP exam in an equivalent area.

Harvard’s policy is typical of many at top colleges. Students who earn a 4 or 5 on a minimum of four AP exams are eligible for sophomore standing. However, Harvard has a complex list of exceptions—i.e., there are AP courses that count as fewer credits or that don’t count at all. To read more about Harvard’s practices, go to:

http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~fdo/publications/0102/advanced.html#summary

If you followed that link, you will see why the question you ask has no easy answers. You probably had to read those pages several times to figure out what they meant (if you didn’t die of boredom the first time through!).

Yale’s Web site includes a chart that explains how AP credits are determined. Go to http://www.yale.edu/admit/freshmen/academics/acceleration.html. You’ll see that some Yale departments award credit only for 5’s; others for 4’s and 5’s. You may find Yale’s acceleration information even harder to navigate than Harvard’s!

Not only do AP-credit policies vary from college to college, but often they seem to be frequently under review within an institution, so when you seek out information that will affect your son’s decisions, make sure the material you use is up-to-date. Most of the selective colleges do allow students who earn 5’s (and usually 4’s) on 4 to 6 Advanced Placement exams to apply for advanced standing or to use those credits to accelerate and graduate in under four years. Rarely can students earn more than one full year of credit through AP exams, even with top scores on up to 8 or 9 tests.

Institutions also differ widely in their policies regarding awarding credit for grades earned in college classes taken before matriculation. Typically, at the most elite schools, no credit is granted for such classes (although a student who has fared well in such a course may be permitted to enter a higher level class than his peers who have not).

Your best bet is to help your son select the colleges and universities that meet his academic and personal needs and then ask an admission official at each one to explain the fine points—and fine print—of the latest AP policies. If you’re brave, you can tackle the Web sites, too, but admission counselors are pretty good at clarifying confusing policies and anticipating questions or problems