AP® Courses and the College Process

The overall quality of a school’s Advanced Placement® program is critical to the success of its students in their preparation for success in college and also in the college admissions process. Berkeley’s College Counseling Office has compiled some Frequently Asked Questions regarding AP® Courses as they relate to the college process.

List of 7 frequently asked questions.

  • Q.
    How are AP® courses and scores reviewed in the college admissions process?

    A. A transcript showing enrollment in multiple AP® courses is, by itself, not an accurate or reliable predictor of achievement or success in the college admissions process. In selective college admissions, students are read in the context of the high school that they attend. College admissions counselors are typically given detailed information about the courses that are available to the students in the school, the standardized testing averages for the class, the AP exam results of the previous year, percent of students attending a four-year college, and a grade distribution for the class to put the high school and its students into perspective.

    While individual high schools are responsible for teaching their AP® courses, students take a national advanced placement exam at the end of the school year. The exams are scored on a scale of 1 – 5 with scores of 3, 4 and 5 considered “college recommended” marks. An individual school’s AP® program can therefore be evaluated on the overall success of its students on the national exams.

    The reality is that colleges and universities consider the strength of a school’s AP program when determining the merits of a student’s course choices and rigor of academic schedule. If the school’s “pass rate” (i.e. percentage of exams earning a 3, 4, or 5) is low, the assumption can be that the AP courses taught are of questionable rigor; in such a scenario, the number of AP® courses on a student’s transcript can have considerably less advantageous impact on the admissions outcome.
  • Q.
    What is Berkeley’s AP® pass rate compared to others?

    A. Berkeley's AP® pass rate in 2016 was 82%. According to the College Board®, 93% of students at Berkeley scored a three or higher on at least one exam. In comparison, 54% of students in Florida and 60% of students globally scored a three or higher on at least one AP® exam.
  • Q.
    What are Berkeley’s college acceptance statistics?

    A.
    In 2016, 100% of our students were offered admission to a four-year college or university. The average number of acceptances per student was four colleges/universities. The Class of 2016 included 155 students who were accepted to a combined total of 181 colleges and universities in 36 states, the District of Columbia, Canada, Italy, and Switzerland. The Class earned a combined $9 million in scholarship money, and 80% qualified for the Florida Bright Futures Scholarship program.
  • Q.
    Are a certain number of AP® courses required to gain acceptance to a selective college?

    A. Unfortunately, there are many assumptions about what readers at selective colleges consider to be “plusses” regarding AP® courses. One of the greatest oversimplifications of the process is the myth that “X number of AP® courses are required to get into a selective college.” X varies according to with whom you speak, but the misguided theory behind this myth remains the same…“If a student doesn’t load up on AP® and courses, she/he will have no options.”

    It is not enough in competitive college admissions to simply have AP® courses on the student transcript. Most applications for selective institutions, including the Common Application, which is used by 650+ colleges and universities, now ask students to report AP® exam scores in the application process. Likewise, a student’s performance in the AP® class is closely examined, as is the school’s overall performance on the exams, to determine the quality of the AP® program and the preparation for the student population as a whole. It is important to remember that the overall quality of a school’s AP® program is critical to the success of its students in the college process. For this reason, it is possible for two students at different high schools to have taken identical course loads with identical grades, but for one student to be seen as “more competitive” than the other based upon the reputation and perceived rigor of the individual high school curriculums.
  • Q.
    How many AP® courses are offered at Berkeley?

    A.
    Currently, 26 AP® courses are offered across all of the academic disciplines.
  • Q.
    What is Berkeley’s Philosophy & Approach to AP® Courses?

    A. The philosophy at Berkeley is that the AP® courses should be taught at the college level, as intended by the College Board®, and as expected by the colleges. It is for this reason that the majority of our AP classes are available to junior and senior students; it is a rare freshman or sophomore in high school who is prepared to successfully master the material in a college-level course. Therefore, our curriculum in grades 9, 10 and 11 is designed to build a foundation for students that lead to readiness for AP® success. It is an approach that has been highly successful for our students and school.

    While maintaining rigorous entrance requirements befitting a college-level course, we have made AP® courses more accessible to qualified students. Since 2013, more than 200 students have taken at least one AP® exam each year at Berkeley and the total number of students taking at least one AP® has increased by 20%. During this time, the number of AP® exams administered has increased by 29% to more than 700 exams each year. The increased accessibility of AP® courses continues to be accompanied by an impressively high level of performance on the AP® exams. Over the past five years, as we have continued to increase access to the AP® courses, Berkeley students have taken more than 3,100 AP® exams and achieved an incredible 86% pass rate. Students are reviewed by college readers in the context of the program available to them at Berkeley and invariably benefit from the strong reputation we enjoy nationally.

    At the same time, we resist any temptation to be complacent but instead remain at the forefront of issues of interest surrounding the AP® program; we continuously evaluate and research our program and make changes that are in the best interests of our students, their education and the college process. In addition, we encourage parents and students to work closely with Berkeley’s academic counselors to ensure a challenging schedule in which a student can be academically successful is in place.

    At Berkeley, we require all AP® students to take the exam as part of their commitment to the course. Our college counselors are sometimes asked about the importance of the AP® exam score (given the exam takes place at the end of the year) and the level of interest a college actually has in the outcome of the course. Again, the reality is that colleges and universities consider the strength of a school’s AP® program when determining the merits of a student’s course choices and rigor of academic schedule. If the school’s “pass rate” is low, the assumption can be that the AP® courses taught are of questionable rigor; in such a scenario, the number of Advanced Placement courses on a student’s transcript can have considerably less advantageous impact on the admissions outcome.
  • Q.
    What is the history of the AP® Program?

    A.
    According to the College Board®, the Advanced Placement® program was developed in the 1950s and was designed to allow talented, motivated students the opportunity to take college-level courses while still in high school. It was seen as a partnership of sorts between high schools and colleges; a way to inspire bright students to maximize their abilities. At the end of the academic year, a national exam is given in each subject that is scored on a 1 – 5 scale with scores of 3, 4, and 5 considered “college recommending” marks. Every student takes the same exam, so it is possible to compare both student and high school scores on a national level.

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