By CHRISTINA ANDRONESCU
With Advanced Placement testing season on the horizon and thick reams of review packets already being doled out, many students find themselves wondering whether taking these difficult courses now will be worth it in the end. Beyond the advantage of a greater competitive edge when applying to colleges, some students elect to take these more rigorous classes with more pressing financial concerns in mind.
Traditionally, scores of four or five on the AP test can earn exemption from certain classes, placement into higher courses or credit towards a degree. This system has proven to be helpful for those looking to save money while pursuing a higher education, especially in today’s world which is so fraught with crippling student loans and dehydrated noodles. However, as of recent years, a number of colleges have come to the consensus that is sure to crush a couple of dreams and bank accounts: AP exam scores cannot replace the college experience.
Namely, Dartmouth University, part of the prestigious Ivy League, has introduced a policy that—while it will allow students to place out of introductory level classes or be exempted from certain requirements—made it so that those coveted AP test scores will not equate to credits come graduation. This change in policy all originates from the Dartmouth Psychology department growing “more and more suspicious about how good an indicator a 5 on the AP psych exam was for academic success,” according to Hakan Tell, chair of Dartmouth’s Committee on Instruction. Consequently, the department ran an experiment wherein a condensed version of the Psych I final was given all incoming students who had earned a five on the AP Psychology exam and the results were disheartening. Of the over 100 students that were involved in the study, 90 percent of them failed the Dartmouth placement test. The mere 10 percent that passed received the credit that normally only a 5 from a high-school-level test would have awarded them.
Admittedly, these findings are not necessarily universally applicable, as acknowledged Hakan Tell, but it still demonstrates that while students who troop through AP courses are better-prepared, it is dangerous to assume they have collectively mastered the material of a college-level course.
So what does this mean for those still in high school attempting to juggle all those APs that seemed like a great idea at the time?
Well, colleges—Ivy Leagues in particular—still like to see that their next crop of bright-eyed, academically ambitious undergraduates are not only choosing to challenge themselves on a high school level but excelling in those demanding courses. In fact, College Board asserts that 85 percent of selective institutions report that a student’s AP experience favorably impacts admission decisions. In their own words, it shows that a student is “intellectually curious, unafraid of hard work, and capable of learning the knowledge and skills expected of college students.” As charmingly optimistic and remarkably self-assured as this sounds, take one step back from the picture and this statement seems like nothing more than a collections of pretty words used to mask a scheme that has had all of us in College Board’s pocket from the second we registered for high school. But that might just be the sleep-deprived student talking.
Regardless, the question of whether to AP or not to AP will always ultimately be up to the individual. Each student’s set of motives for undertaking such academic rigor however just happens to depend on the forever changing landscape of uncertainty that is the pursuit of higher education.