What Parents Don't Know About Advanced Placement in College
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Colleges do not necessarily grant credit for AP scores and taking 12 stressful AP classes in order to beef up a college application does not help if the university in question only wants to see unweighted grades.
Here are the top five parental myths about Advanced Placement - five things no one tells parents but that you need to know:
- Advanced Placement courses are not necessarily college-level classes. They're billed as such by the College Board. There are laudable goals behind the AP program and these courses are indeed deep, rich and intellectually rigorous experiences - at some high schools. At others, the classes are months-long test prep for the AP exam, FairTest founder Bob Schaeffer, has said in numerous interviews. And some professors and college deans, including Dartmouth classics professors Hakan Tell, who chairs the university's Committee on Instruction, argue that AP classes are not remotely equivalent to what is taught in their lecture halls. At Dartmouth, where students with the highest AP scores were hoping to skip an entry-level class, the psychology department gave them a shortened version of Dartmouth's final exam for that course. Not only did 90% fail the exam, but when they took the actual class, they were outmatched by students who hadn't scored those AP fives.
- Advanced Placement courses and exams were not designed by a university. They're the work of the College Board, a for-profit, test prep and test design company based in Princeton - the city, not the university. The College Board, which made its fortune on the SAT, GRE and similar exams, is not affiliated with any college.
- Colleges don't necessarily confer credit for high-scoring AP exams. The expectation among
many parents and teens is that a 3 or higher on the AP exam nets you college benefits - course credits and/or exemptions from introductory classes or breadth requirements. But those benefits typically accompany a 4 or 5 rating, not a 3. Some universities do not grant credit or they cap the numbers, and others grant credit but insist - or strongly encourage - that certain introductory classes be taken anyway. At Harvard, you must score a 5 to earn advanced standing and you cannot submit more than four classes. Dartmouth is eliminating college credit for AP scores starting with the class of 2018.
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- AP classes do not necessarily confer the college apps oomph you think they do. Colleges regard them as a good sign that applicants have taken the most rigorous coursework available. But when the college applications arrive you may discover that some universities allow space to list just six AP courses, not the 14 your darling child took, or they may ask for unweighted, not weighted, grades.
- Encouraging your child to load up on APs because it's impressive? The reality here is that AP classes offer value if they're in an area your child is passionate about. Sharing a classroom with other students fascinated by comparative literature increases the intellectual fervor of discussions. Elevating the content of a science or math class is a good thing. But the stakes are high - the stress is intense. the workload high, the exams expensive and lengthy, and there may be limited college benefits at the end of the road. Make sure your kid is taking an AP for the right reasons. Your neighbors don't care what your kid is taking.