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  • Writer's pictureDina

Save Tuition. Take AP?

One big misconception about AP is that passing AP exams helps students earn college credits, save money, and accelerate graduation. However, the reality is that not all college curricula are created equally; the score needed and how many credits students can be granted depend on the college and the major.

When it comes to college credits, the more selective the college is, the less generous it is to grant credits. For example, Harvard and MIT only accept score 5 if certain prerequisites are met, and the credits students can earn are extremely limited:


  • Credit towards graduation is granted for Advanced Placement exams only if a student activates Advanced Standing. Incoming students who have taken AP exams need a total of 32 credits to be eligible for Advanced Standing.

  • Credits are earned by scoring 5 on a minimum of four AP exams.

  • Under the Math/Science category, Harvard doesn’t grant credits to AP ES, AP Physics 1, Physics 2, AP CS P, or AP CS A.


  • MIT’s policy on AP equivalence is tough.

  • A 5 on AP Calc BC doesn’t help students earn any college credits. Students have to take the Math Diagnostic exam upon entering the college, and passing grade (yet to be determined by the faculty) on this exam plus a 5 on the Calculus BC will earn credits.

  • MIT doesn’t accept any AP sciences except for the 5 on AP Physics C: Mechanics and Electricity & Magnetism

It’s understandable that the elite colleges implement these standards to ensure the quality of their undergraduate education. Compared to these top-10 colleges, other universities, especially public schools, are more generous.


  • For most STEM subjects, only 5’s are accepted. For example, Chemistry, Physics, and Computer Science A (AP CS P is not considered).

  • For some humanity majors, such as Roman Studies, a placement test is required to grant college credits in addition to the AP result.

  • Cornell University does NOT accept credit for courses sponsored by colleges but taught in high schools to high school students (aka dual-credit), even if the college provides a transcript of such work.


  • No credit is given for projected scores, partial scores or subscores, such as Calculus AB Subscore, Music: Aural Subscore, or Music: Nonaural Subscore.

  • AP scores do not earn USC course equivalence.

  • Only 4 and 5 are accepted by limited subjects: 2nd languages, Biology, Chemistry, Economics, Calculus, and Psychology.


  • Only 4 and 5 are accepted.

  • Pre-health students cannot use AP credits to place out of BIOL-UA 11, 12. Students who are not pre-health can apply these credits towards majors and minors in the Department of Biology.

  • Economics majors cannot use AP credit in calculus for any or all of the Mathematics for Economics I, II, III sequence (MATH-UA 211, 212, 213).

  • Potential physics majors may discuss their Physics C credits with that department for possible placement out of PHYS-UA 91 and 93 (but not out of the associated labs PHYS-UA 71 and 72). Physics majors granted this exemption are required to take one or more additional advanced PHYS-UA electives.


  • A score of 3 is accepted for many subjects. For instance, a score of 3 or higher satisfies the full American History and Institutions requirement.

  • The College of Engineering has higher expectation on students’ academic performance:

  • A score of 4 or 5 from AP Calculus BC satisfies Mathematics 1A and Mathematics 1B

  • Physics Mechanics C: Score of 5 satisfies Physics 7A

  • A score of 4 or 5 satisfies Biology 1A/1AL and Biology 1B


University of Washington at Seattle

  • Native speakers of a languages other than English cannot earn credits from the AP exam related to those languages.

  • At the UW, scores of 3 or higher are considered for college credit awards or placement into UW courses. A score of 2 with subgrades of 3, 4, and 5 on AP Calc BC will grant college credits as well.

Clearly, every school/department has its own rule of accepting AP exams for credits. It’s worth noting that there are two ways to grant college credits based on AP: credits with course equivalence and credits without course equivalence. The difference is that without course equivalence, students will earn credits that may help them fulfill the general requirement, such as “ X units from social sciences.”

But if there is a specific course requirement that cannot be satisfied with AP (even though it is the same subject), students still have to take the class in college. Take UC Irvine (UCI) for example. Getting a score of 3 on AP Calculus AB only gives students 8 UCI credits, but with a score of 4, students can use the result to satisfy the requirement for Math 2A.

AP’s are essential to show a student’s mastery of knowledge and the rigor of the curriculum. Students should not be affected by one or two colleges’ policies when deciding which courses to take. But for specific causes like saving tuition, we highly recommended to conduct thorough research on the AP equivalence policy.

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