AP Courses are becoming more and more common on the schedules of high school students for multiple reasons. They're a great way to prep for the coursework you'll be facing in college, sure, but they also offer the opportunity to start your first year of undergrad with some prerequisites already out of the way. (It's basically a head start.) A question I get quite regularly is, “What is an acceptable AP score?" Well, the answer — as with much of the college application process — really comes down to one person: you.
Here's a breakdown of how AP scoring works, how it can benefit you in gaining college credit and why you should consider taking AP courses outside of that.
How the Scores Work
To rank your performance throughout an AP course, and therefore the AP Exam, the tests are graded on a 1 to 5 scale with the following classifications:
5 = Extremely well qualified
4 = Well qualified
3 = Qualified
2 = Possibly qualified
1 = No recommendation
More practically, the College Board equates a score of five to an A in the equivalent college-level course, a four to the range of an A- to a B, and a score of three to the range of a B- to a C. Now, this isn't necessarily indicative of how you performed over the course of the entire year, but it is indicative of how you performed on the exam. (That's why it's important to take some AP Exam prep, just as you would for the SAT or ACT!) And despite this being the official way in which the College Board treats each score, that doesn't mean that each school will handle scores equally.
How Schools Handle Scores
Colleges typically accept scores of four or five, giving you credit for the course either in the form of college credits directly or more advanced course placement (thanks to a prerequisite being fulfilled by the AP course). Some colleges will accept a score of three on many AP Exams for the same purpose, and there are very rare cases of colleges giving some amount of credit or placement for a two — but scoring a one on an AP Exam carries no benefits when your score report arrives at the admissions office. (You get a one on an AP Exam just for showing up!)
Do note that there are some colleges that don't recognize AP scores at all, so be sure to check out the AP Credit Policy Search from the College Board so you know what your prospective schools' policies are in advance.
Benefits Outside of College Credit
Just because a school doesn't honor AP scores for credit or placement doesn't mean you should avoid AP courses altogether. Outside of the above benefits, they some are just downright interesting, which can be reason enough to enroll! Plus, these courses are a great way to boost the rigor of your high school record, which is something colleges look for when making admissions decisions. Adding a few of these courses to your high school schedule will show that you're willing and able to complete college coursework. Of course, it's important that you're able to keep up with the course as well. Simply having it on your schedule won't do the trick; you'll have to earn the grade to show your effort. So check with your school advisors or your AP teachers if you're unsure what level of work is involved in an AP class and to determine if it will fit well with your schedule. And that goes for any student considering an AP class, whether for college credit or not.
I know this isn't a black-and-white answer, but whether you should take an AP really depends on the score you think you need, and how achievable you think it will be given your schedule. That said, if you can earn an acceptable AP score, which varies from school to school, I certainly think you should go for it. There's always some sort of perk — whether that be advanced course placement, course credit or simply an edge when applying — to having an acceptable AP score on your record.
If you're wondering how else you can get ahead on the college application process, The Princeton Review's admissions counseling can help. And check out our books The Best 385 Colleges and The Complete Book of Colleges to help determine which schools you'll target.