With the SAT subject tests being cancelled, College Board has stated that it is placing more of its resources in the AP tests, resulting in beliefs that AP tests will be another considerably important factor in admissions (there have been rumblings among many universities about this idea).
While we await confirmations of this policy, we can take a look at the past, during which schools had already been using AP tests as an admissions factor, specifically, the accounts of a former Admissions Reader at the University of Chicago (2012-2013) and UC Berkeley’s dual business/engineering program, called Management, Entrepreneurship, and Technology (2017-2018).
At the University of Chicago, a ranking system was used to rate applications (something we’ve known is true from Harvard’s lawsuit). Here, AP scores were not formally included in the rating, but there was a written section available for readers to provide additional context about a student’s academic ability, including high standardized test scores; these sections were sometimes responsible for tiebreakers. Conversely, low standardized test scores could raise eyebrows about a student’s readiness for certain topics and majors.
Keep in mind that AP scores are, for the most part on college applications, a self-reporting process. This means that you don’t have to submit all of your scores; it’s a general rule of thumb to submit all passing scores. In terms of receiving credit or advanced placement, be sure to check with each college’s policies.
At UC Berkeley, the admissions office looked at the student’s high school to see the percentage of classmates who took 3 or more AP exams; likewise, the office looked at how many AP courses the applicant took compared to how many AP courses were available or offered. However, it’s noted that students were not “punished” if they attended a school that did not offer AP classes.
This means that, regardless of your major, it’s wise to challenge yourself by taking honors or AP classes whenever available and possible. Yes, you still need to balance your workload, so don’t take only weighted classes if you can’t keep your GPA high. In that scenario, think about which classes you’ll do best in and which classes will be related to your major. These are the classes whose grades and AP scores matter more.
Most importantly, UC Berkeley did consider AP scores during admissions. Typically, low AP scores do not hurt students’ chances, but for certain majors, especially STEM-oriented competitive programs, AP scores could strongly influence a decision.
That said, while AP exams were important, they were still and continue to be less important than GPA, academic rigor, SAT/ACT scores, extracurriculars, and college essays.
Overall, the takeaway is that although AP exams are not officially a factor in admissions, they can and definitely do affect your chances of admissions. Your plans of how many and which AP exams to take, holistically speaking, matter, along with your major and school. This is where a counselor can help you identify strategies to maximize your odds for certain combinations because every student profile is different.