AP Exams for Student in Dual-Enrollment Program?

Question: My daughter is in an alternative program in her school district that allows a small group of selected kids to complete 11th and 12th grade at the local community college. The program combines high school English and Social Studies classes with up to two college classes per quarter. She receives double credit for each college class. She enjoys the program since she has the independence of a college student, more personal interaction with her teachers/ professors, more mature classmates, less social drama, more flexible schedule, and of course, the opportunity to take college-level courses.

The issue we are struggling with is whether or not to take the AP exams in subjects she is studying at the college. She does not have the option to take actual AP classes in this program. The college courses do not map to the AP curriculum, so the AP exams will require her to put in extra time to prepare. Is there any benefit to taking the AP exams, and how do college admissions counselors view students with such a background? She is a straight A student, by the way, including in the college classes, so GPA is not the issue. Thanks.

That's a good question, and you may get different answers depending on who you ask.

It sounds to “The Dean" as if you'd prefer that your daughter NOT take the AP exams because the tests do not correlate well with her course material and would necessitate extra independent study. If this were mychild, I'd feel the same way and I'd vote against the tests.

From a college-admissions perspective, the tests are not necessary, and it probably won't work against your daughter to apply to college without them (more on this in a minute). Colleges—especially the most selective ones–are looking for students who have challenged themselves academically. At many high schools this means that the students are pursuing an Advanced Placement (or International Baccalaureate) curriculum and thus take the corresponding examinations.

But, in your daughter's case, she is also challenging herself academically, and admission officials will respect the path that she has taken, just as if she'd elected AP or IB classes (and, in some cases, even more so).

Reasons why she might want to take the tests anyway include:

-To earn credit from the college she ultimately attends. Most colleges award credit for high AP scores, although not all do. And the amount of credit—and the required scores to earn it—can vary tremendously. Students with many AP credits may even graduate early and save some serious money.

-To skip required and/or prerequisite classes

-To show off academic strengths in varied areas (although your daughter can usually do this via SAT Subject Tests, too). If, however, your daughter's SAT or ACT scores don't reflect her abilities, strong AP exam scores may help to take the spotlight off of the other not-so-hot tests. That's why I said above that not taking AP exams “probably" won't work against your daughter. If her SAT's or ACT's are weak, it could be helpful to submit good alternative scores.

-Similarly, to prove to admission officials that she has mastered challenging subject matter. Some community college classes are actually less rigorous than high school AP classes. Presumably your daughter will be choosing the more demanding classes at her community college. If so, this will not be an issue for her. But intro-level science courses at a community college may not impress some admission folks as much as AP science classes will.

Finally, what isn't clear from your message is whether your daughter will be taking AP classes (and exams) in her high school subjects (English and social studies). If she IS taking AP exams in those areas, that's another reason to skip the exams in the college classes (unless she's determined to take them, of course). Admission folks will see a combination of AP-level high school work and also college-level work in other fields. Perfect!

So, if I'm reading you correctly and you're not a big fan of having your daughter take AP exams in her college classes, you can tell her that “The Dean" is squarely on your side.