Test Prep

Should You Take AP Exams If Colleges Won't Accept the Credits?

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As you've been slowly researching colleges and adding them to your list of places to apply, you might have realized that some of them may not accept AP credits. But if you've already signed up for AP courses, does that mean you should still take the AP exams?

Well, that depends on quite a few factors. Let's explore both sides of this issue. To start off, here are some reasons why you could still take AP exams even if your target schools may not offer AP credit -- or even placement.


You're Aiming to Become An AP Scholar

The AP Scholar Awards program has five categories for US high school students, with the most basic category requiring a score of three or higher on at least three different AP exams. These distinctions can help your application stand out and even qualify you for certain state scholarships -- especially if you are able to achieve the rarer State AP Scholar or the National AP Scholar award. However, be aware that the National AP Scholar Awards are not announced until June of each year, so if you are a senior, you won't be able to include this award on your college applications. However, your transcript will still show that you've done well in quite a few AP courses -- this award category requires an average score of four or higher on at least eight exams!

Even if your target college does not use AP scores for course credit or placement, Geoff Heckman, a school counselor at Platte County High School in Platte City, Mo., believes that colleges are looking for “students who are committed to doing well in college and finishing with a degree in a timely manner. While taking an AP exam may not automatically qualify you as that type of student, I do think that the more committed you are to the work of AP curriculum and scoring high on AP exams does reflect the type of commitment and work ethic that many colleges are looking for.”

Your List of Target Schools May Change

This is probably one of the more important reasons to take AP exams. If you're currently a sophomore or junior, let's face it – there is a good chance that you will change your mind about the colleges you're interested in by the time senior year rolls around. And if any of the colleges you're adding to your list do accept AP scores, then it does make sense to take the AP exams.

“Many of the students that are taking an AP exam at our school are juniors. They very well may change their mind about the college they want to attend between the time of taking the test and senior year. The college they change their mind about may take an AP exam score. And depending upon the score students get, they may change their mind to go to a school that accepts AP exam scores because they did so well on their exams,” Heckman explains.

Your Exam Fee Is Being Greatly Reduced

If you qualify to take the test for a very discounted fee, then you may as well take an AP exam or two in case you change your mind and apply to a school that does accept AP scores. Check here to find out if you are eligible for a discount in your state.

A College Is Changing Its AP Credit Policy

It can happen. You may hear from your counselor or an admissions officer that one of the schools you're applying to might change its AP credit policy soon. For example, Brown University's AP policy web page states, “Since these policies are subject to change, students are advised to confirm AP credit policies with the appropriate department(s). Additional information may be found on department websites or by consulting the departmental AP advisor.” You can also use the College Board's AP Credit Policy Search to check for the latest changes at your target schools.

You Are Applying to A University Abroad

Many international colleges require AP scores as part of the admissions requirements. So if you're considering a degree program abroad, you will probably have to take at least a couple AP exams in the subjects most relevant to your intended major.

Practice for College Exams

This might not be the most convincing of reasons, but Heckman adds that taking exams of this caliber is good practice for the types of exams you'll be taking in college. Let's say that you don't believe you will score a three or higher – Heckman still thinks “it's worth taking that chance. If you score a three, great! If not, it's up to you to report the score to a particular college, but in the end, you will still have the experience and practice of taking that exam.”

Here Are Some Reasons Not to Take the AP Exams

And now, we get to the other side of the story. If none of the above factors is relevant to you, then you may fall into the category of students who should probably not take an AP exam when your target schools don't accept AP scores anyway. Consider the following as you decide whether to take the test.

You Didn't Do Well in the AP Class

Of course, a low grade in the AP class does not necessarily translate to a low AP exam score, just as doing great in the class doesn't always mean getting a great AP exam score. This also applies if you took the course independently online (because your school didn't offer the AP class you wanted), and you didn't end up having much time or the self-motivation to do all the work on your own and complete the course. Heckman puts it this way: “I would say that if your teacher advises that you are not prepared, or if you feel unprepared, don't take the exam.”

You Aren't Doing Well on Practice Exams

If you are consistently not doing well when you take practice AP exams, even when you study more in between taking them, then this is probably a sign that you shouldn't spend the money on taking an official AP exam. However, in this case, you should definitely talk to your AP course teacher to figure out what your problem areas are in this subject and how you can improve your study technique.

No Fee Waiver

You are not eligible for any fee waivers or reductions and will have to pay the full fee of $94 (or more depending on your school and location) for every AP exam you choose to take. Especially if all of the above reasons already apply to you, then the high cost of taking the exam might just be the last straw.

If the mere thought of an AP exam stresses you out, make it a point to sit down with your high school counselor and discuss your college plans. The earlier you start thinking about college and making decisions, the more confident you'll feel about taking – or not taking – any AP exams.

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