If you are taking AP Environmental Science because you see it as an easy A, don’t you think admissions officers at selective colleges and universities will see it that way too? While AP Environmental Science has gotten the reputation as a pretty easy class hardly worthy of an AP designation, it may occasionally be worth taking.
Advanced Placement (AP) courses and the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme are both challenging and rigorous options that high school students can choose to take to demonstrate their commitment to academic excellence and in order to potentially earn college credit for college or gain admission to selective colleges and universities. Yet, most high schools currently only offer one or the other, which is a shame.
An AP course is a college-level course offered in many high schools in the United States and Canada and even some high schools in other countries too (often those that have an English-medium curriculum). AP courses are designed to be rigorous and challenging, with a curriculum that is equivalent to a college-level course. AP courses cover a range of subjects, including English, mathematics, sciences, social sciences, and foreign languages.
At the end of an AP course, currently in May, students have the option to take an AP exam in that subject. The AP exam is administered by the College Board and assesses students’ knowledge and skills in the subject. AP exam scores range from 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest possible score. Many colleges and universities in the United States and around the world offer college credit, advanced placement, or both to students who score a 3 or higher on an AP exam. Yet, increasingly, a growing group of hyper-selective colleges do not award any college credit to AP exam scores of even 4 or 5.
Taking AP courses can provide a number of benefits for students. In addition to preparing them for college-level work and potentially earning them college credit, AP courses can demonstrate a student’s high school academic rigor and dedication to challenging themselves. They can also help students stand out in the college admissions process by showing their readiness for higher education.
The International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme (IBDP) is an internationally recognized, two-year educational program offered to students in their final two years of high school. The IBDP is designed to provide students with a well-rounded education that focuses on critical thinking, problem-solving, and global citizenship.
To earn an IB Diploma, students must complete six courses in various subjects, including language and literature, foreign languages, individuals and societies (such as history or economics), sciences, mathematics, and the arts. In addition, students must complete three core requirements: the Theory of Knowledge (TOK) course, which explores the nature of knowledge and different ways of knowing; the Extended Essay (EE), which is a research paper of up to 4,000 words; and Creativity, Activity, Service (CAS), which involves extracurricular activities and community service.
Assessment in the IB Diploma Programme is based on a combination of internal and external assessments. Internal assessments are conducted by teachers and include essays, projects, and oral presentations. External assessments include written exams, which are administered at the end of the two-year program, when a student is at the end of his or her senior (12th grade) year, and are graded externally by IB examiners. IB Diploma students can receive a maximum of 45 points: 7 points for each of the six subject areas and a maximum of 3 points for the core requirements. Students who earn at least 24 points and meet other requirements can earn an IB Certificate, even if they do not complete the full Diploma. Ivy League-level colleges and universities are most attracted to IB applicants who are predicted in the fall/winter of 12th grade (when students apply to college in the US) to earn at least 40 points total by the time they enroll as college freshmen.
One of the key features of the IB Diploma Programme is its focus on international-mindedness and global citizenship. The program aims to develop students’ awareness and understanding of different cultures, perspectives, and languages, and to prepare them to be active and responsible global citizens. The IB Diploma is recognized by colleges and universities around the world and can provide students with quite a competitive edge in the college admissions process.
Pros of AP Courses
Flexibility: AP courses allow students to pick and choose which subjects they want to study in-depth. They can take as many or as few AP courses as they wish, depending on their interests and goals.
Recognition: AP courses are widely recognized in the United States and around the world. Earning a high score on an AP exam can demonstrate mastery of a subject to college admissions officers and potential employers.
Cost-effective: The cost of taking an AP exam is much lower than the cost of taking an equivalent college course. This can help students save money on college tuition.
Cons of AP Courses
Limited scope: AP courses typically focus on the material covered in a single college course, which may not provide the same level of depth and breadth as an IB program.
Reliance on exams: AP courses rely heavily on a single exam at the end of the year to determine a student’s score and eligibility for college credit. This can be stressful for students who struggle with test-taking.
Lack of cohesiveness: Because students can choose which AP courses to take, there may not be as much cohesiveness between courses or a unified curriculum.
Pros of the IB Diploma Programme
Holistic education: The IB Diploma Programme emphasizes a well-rounded education, including language acquisition, community service, and a focus on critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
International recognition: The IB Diploma Programme is recognized and respected by universities around the world. It can provide an advantage to students who want to attend college outside of the United States.
Preparation for college: The rigorous nature of the IB Diploma Programme can prepare students for the challenges of college coursework and help them develop the skills they need to succeed.
Cons of the IB Diploma Programme
Cost: The cost of the IB Diploma Programme can be higher than the cost of taking AP courses, which can be a barrier for some students.
Heavy workload: The IB Diploma Programme can be very demanding, with a heavy workload and a requirement to complete a range of assessments and coursework.
Limited subject choices: The IB Diploma Programme requires students to take a specific set of courses in order to earn the diploma, which may not align with their interests or career goals.
Ultimately, the decision of whether to pursue AP courses or the IB Diploma Programme will depend on a student’s individual goals, interests, and strengths. Both programs offer benefits and challenges, and students should consider their personal needs and preferences when making a decision.
My School Only Offers One of these Curricula
The decision to offer only AP courses or only the IB Diploma Programme (IBDP) can depend on a variety of factors, such as the resources and priorities of the school, the interests of the student body, and the educational goals of the school or school district.
One reason why some schools offer only AP courses is that the AP program has been around longer and is more established in the United States. In addition, the AP program is more flexible in terms of course offerings, allowing schools to choose which courses they want to offer based on the interests and needs of their students.
On the other hand, some schools choose to offer only the IBDP because they believe it provides a more comprehensive and holistic education. The IBDP requires students to complete coursework in multiple subject areas and to engage in the core requirements, which emphasize critical thinking, global awareness, and community service. Schools that prioritize these goals may choose to offer only the IBDP, as it aligns more closely with their educational philosophy.
Ultimately, the decision to offer only AP courses or only the IBDP depends on the priorities and resources of the school and the school district, as well as the educational goals and interests of the student body. Some schools may also choose to offer both AP and IBDP options to provide students with a choice and to cater to different learning styles and interests. Sadly, this is relatively rare, and even if the student prefers one curricula or the other, usually the student has no choice in the matter unless he or she is willing or able to change high schools.
Do Colleges Prefer One or the Other?
American colleges do not necessarily prefer AP over IBDP or vice versa. Both AP and IBDP are rigorous academic programs that demonstrate a student’s preparedness for college-level work, and both can be viewed positively by college admissions officers.
When evaluating students for admission, colleges typically consider a range of factors beyond just academic performance, including extracurricular activities, personal essays, letters of recommendation, and standardized test scores (such as the SAT or ACT). Therefore, it is difficult to say that one program is preferred over the other in the college admissions process.
It is worth noting, however, that colleges and universities have different policies when it comes to awarding college credit for AP and IBDP courses. While many institutions award credit for high scores on AP exams, some may require higher scores on IBDP exams or may only offer credit for specific courses within the IBDP curriculum. Yet, I’ve also had students of mine who enter college with sophomore standing and an impressive scholarship as a result of earning 40 or more points at the end of the IBDP, and that is a far rarer occurrence for AP students, as it’s harder to take ten or more APs by the time of graduation and score well enough on them that the student will be to get them all accepted for credit at college and thus catapult a student to sophomore standing upon matriculating to college. This is a function of the exact courses on offer at the student’s high school as much as the a la carte nature of the AP curriculum. IBDP is very much like staying at an all-inclusive resort in comparison. Yet, in so doing, many students don’t have the energy to pursue extracurricular activities as much as they could or should to round out their overall college applications.
In general, it is important for students to research the specific policies of the colleges and universities they are interested in attending, as well as to consider which program may be the best fit for their academic interests and goals. Ultimately, both AP and IBDP can be valuable for students seeking a rigorous and challenging academic experience.
Are there other ways to earn college credit before graduating from high school?
Yes! Remember, both of these curricula are purporting to offer college level coursework to high school students. Yet, many high school students have the ability to enroll in dual or concurrent enrollment college courses at or with a local community or four-year college when they are still in high school. A third way to begin earning college credit in high school is to simply start taking college courses online or in person and earn passing grades in them (the higher the better). Many colleges both within your state and in other states will accept such credits – at least to fulfill general education requirements – to count towards your eventual four-year undergraduate degree. Yet, some very selective colleges still may not. So, do your research when deciding where to apply and ultimately enroll if coming into college with college credits is important to you.
If your main goal is to prove that you can take and do well in college level coursework in order to impress and therefore get into selective colleges, then a robust roster of AP courses (and scores), the full IBDP (and strong predictions + final scores), or a good number of community college credits (with strong grades on your associated college transcript) will all get the job done for you. As you can now tell, there are many roads to arriving at the same destination, and no single curriculum has a monopoly on either knowledge, truth, or getting you in to your dream college.
It figures that August 1 landed on a Sunday this year. What used to be just another beach day took on special significance a few years ago, when Common Application chose August 1 to launch its updates for the coming school year. It’s exciting to be sure, but with a hint of melancholy, as a few overly enthusiastic parents use the occasion to tell their high school seniors “Summer’s over”, while the seniors meekly head towards the nearest computer, even on a weekend, muttering “But what if I don’t want it to be?”
Happily, more than a few colleges agree with the seniors. While there was a stream—OK, a torrent—of colleges Twittering students on Sunday to hurry up and apply, more than a few colleges said “Start today if you want to, but our deadline isn’t until January. Take your time.” I had planned on thanking each of those colleges for posting such a message in the face of application mania. I’m pleased to say there were too many to do so.
But this is just the start, and here’s hoping more colleges get on board. The last two years of schooling have left this year’s seniors in pretty bad shape. Day after day of waking up to find out if school is in person, online, both, or neither may have left them flexible, but it has also left them exhausted. Students who fit every element of one (and certainly not the only) likely college-bound profile—from the suburbs, in a college prep curriculum, with two well-off parents who went to college—are saying out loud they just don’t think applying to college is worth the hassle. That’s not because of the Delta rebound; it’s because their last couple of years of school have left them unsure of themselves and their ability to control their destiny. Since any college admissions rep will tell you the key to a successful application is to let the student drive the bus, this is a huge problem.
Part of the solution lies with us. August is peach and melon season in Michigan, a time when very rational people who never eat fruit feel a swelling in their taste buds that can only be satiated by interaction with produce that is truly a little slice of heaven.
This same thirst wells up in the media every August, but it isn’t for fruit—it’s for stories about the confusing, terrifying, uncertain world of college admissions. With a new crop of high school seniors every year, journalists eagerly seize on their newness to college admissions, highlighting profiles of bright young people who find themselves flummoxed over how to apply to college, and when to apply to college. Curiously, these stories rarely display a student’s confusion over where to apply to college, since the media only covers students who are considering the same 25 colleges ever year that admit about 5 percent of their applicant pool. “She’s a National Honor Society president, but she can’t get her arms around Yale’s application.” Of course, these same students would be equally baffled by using a plumber’s wrench for the first time, and they easily get the hang of this college thing two weeks into the process. But apparently, that’s not the point. The very first time they do something new, they don’t completely understand it. My goodness.
The impact of this approach to college application coverage can’t be understated. Thousands of students have already had to give up most of their summers at the insistence of parents who have caught the angst early, eager to make sure that college essay sparkles, unaware that the number one cause of weak essays isn’t underwriting, but overwriting.
Parents who haven’t been on their seniors about college since Father’s Day read these August articles and panic, fearing their child is now “behind”. They plop their senior in front of a computer screen and tell them they can’t come out until an application is finished—for a college that doesn’t even start reading applications until January 10.
Parents whose children really understand themselves, and had no intention of applying to these schools, now feel their child is “losing out” on something, and suddenly insist that an application or two to the Big 25 is a good idea, “just to see what happens”, even though their student is well aware of what will happen.
This brand of media attention has never served high school seniors well, and it’s likely to make matters even worse for this year’s seniors, who are looking to gain their footing after two years of scholastic uncertainty. In the interest of their well being—or, to use a phrase that is on the verge of becoming unimportant due to its overuse, their mental health—how about a few less media stories on the impossibility of getting into college and its excessive expense, and a few more stories about the 75% or so of colleges who admit more than 50% of their applicants, and the many colleges who are forgiving institutionally-based student loans? Could the media finally discover the urban and rural colleges whose buildings have not a hint of ivy that are turning around the lives of students who didn’t have the opportunity to take 7 AP classes in high school, students who are shining academically? How about the students who are making community college work, earning a degree that costs less from start to finish than one year of Harvard, all while the students typically work about 30 hours a week?
It’s certainly true many people turn to the media to read stories that will fuel their dreams—that’s why so many people follow the Olympics, and replay the video of the woman who was reunited with her dog after two years. But stories about the uncertainty of the college selection process don’t feed students’ sense of the possible; they nourish their nightmares. They’ve had enough of that these past two years, and may be headed for more. The best thing the press can do for them, and for our society, is to admit there are more than 25 good colleges in this country, and wake the students to a better vision of how to apply to college, other than run a gauntlet that, at the end of the day, is largely of the media’s own making.
Taking and doing well on Advanced Placement Exams could earn you some college credits, but they shouldn’t influence the grade you earn in your AP Classes and they rarely are factored into college admissions decisions.
Sadly, many high schools pressure students to freak out about these exams; yet, the exams themselves have limited utility to the vast majority of high school students. These exams do make the College Board and schools a lot of money.
In case you missed the email, the College Board rolled out Advanced Placement (AP®) scores for tests taken this past May earlier this month. And by now, most AP students should have already received their scores—for better or worse!
For the record, old fashioned snail mail reports were discontinued several years ago in favor of an online arrangement that requires you to have a College Board account to access scores. In other words, to obtain scores, students must have
- an online College Board account requiring registration
- a username and password
- 2017 AP number (the number on the labels in the Student Pack) OR student identifier (student ID number) if provided on your answer sheet
Unless there was a problem with identification, scoring or test administration, your scores should now be available and will be added to a cumulative report of all AP tests you have taken to-date (you actually have to pay an extra fee to have any scores removed from the report).
If you’re unlucky enough not to have a score report, feel free to contact the College Board at [email protected] or 888-225-5427 (toll free) or 212-632-1780, especially if you haven’t received scores by September 1.
And what do the scores mean? AP scores are a “weighted combination” of results on the multiple-choice and free-response sections. The final score is reported on a 5-point scale, as follows:
- 5: Extremely well qualified to receive college credit or advanced placement
- 4: Well qualified
- 3: Qualified
- 2: Possibly qualified
- 1: No recommendation
You can also think of the five-point scale in terms of letter grades, with 5 equating to an “A” and 1—well, you get the picture.
And what are they worth? The awarding of credit and placement status is determined by individual colleges or universities. You can check directly with the school or on the College Board website to research this information, but note that the latter is neither as specific nor as accurate as what you are likely to find on individual school websites.
In most cases, a student who scores a 4 or 5 may receive college credit. In rare cases, a school will require a 5, and almost no colleges will accept a score of 2. In fact, the most selective colleges will not accept a 3 for credit.
For example, George Mason University will accept a score of 3 for 4 credits in an entry-level environmental science class. For 8 credits, the student must earn a 4 or 5 on the exam. Neither Georgetown nor GW will award credit for any score below a 4. In fact, Georgetown awards no credit for AP Capstone, AP Computer Science Principles, AP Comparative Government, AP US History, AP Human Geography, and AP Physics 1 or 2.
The University of Virginia generally awards credit for scores of 4 or 5, but for French will dip as low as a 3 for some entry-level exemption. The University of Maryland takes a different approach and awards credit for scores of 3 or better in Art History, English Language and English Literature but requires at least a 4 to receive credit in a foreign language.
Keep in mind that wise use of AP credit can reduce the total number of credit hours needed to graduate. At Virginia Tech, students are allowed to use up to 38 hours of AP credit towards graduation, while Vanderbilt University will only award up to 18 credits. And Dartmouth College will accept no AP credits toward graduation.
AP exam scores may also be used to meet standardized test requirements in the admissions processes of several colleges. Fair Test keeps track of this evolving trend on its Test Score Optional List and includes Colby College, Colorado College, Drexel University, Hamilton College, Middlebury College, NYU and the University of Rochester among those colleges and universities allowing APs to be submitted in place of ACT/SAT scores.
Teachers and AP administrators will also be receiving scores this month, and many high schools include score distributions in the school profiles they send to colleges along with transcripts (see Montgomery Blair High School’s profile for a good example). This is so admissions offices can put individual scores reported on applications in context with those earned by others in your class. But note that some high schools are extremely reluctant to make this information public and will routinely deny requests from families interested in evaluating a particular class or teacher.
For those new to the process, the online reporting system seems like an efficient, environmentally-friendly way to get scores. But be aware. The College Board can now connect your AP scores with PSAT and SAT scores as well as any grade, career interest or family income information you provide in the course of test registration or on their net price calculators.
And the College Board is all about mining for data that can be sold to postsecondary institutions, scholarship programs, or any number of organizations willing to pay for lists it aggressively markets.
These connections can be both good and bad. If you haven’t graduated from high school, expect to receive recruitment materials from colleges purchasing name and contact information anxious to get to know you. At the same time, don’t be surprised to hear from questionable honor societies or other organizations hoping to con you into paying for something you don’t want.
Check back tomorrow for a sneak preview of AP test results as tweeted by College Board executive, Trevor Packer.