The Ivy Coach Daily

August 1, 2023

AP Scores and Ivy League Admissions – What Should You Report?

A view of Harvard Yard from beneath a tree.
AP exams are self-reported, but many wonder which exams should be submitted to America’s top colleges.

Many students and parents wonder if Advanced Placement exam scores should be reported to America’s elite colleges and, if so, which scores should be submitted. Since AP exams, scored on a 1-5 scale, are self-reported to America’s elite colleges, students get to decide which exams, if any, to report and which to withhold. But with great power comes many questions. Let’s answer them for Ivy Coach’s readers.

In short, all scores of 5 on AP exams should be reported to elite colleges. However, for scores of 4 or 3, submitting the scores is dependent on the student’s coursework and other AP results. Scores of 2 or 1 should never be shared.

Should AP Scores Be Reported to Elite Colleges?

It Behooves Applicants to Submit Top AP Scores

It always behooves applicants to submit top AP scores to elite colleges, as top AP scores can be a significant differentiator in the highly selective college admissions process.

Submitting Top AP Scores Conveys Learning Comes Easily

When students show top AP scores in a series of disciplines, it conveys that they can sit and take tests and do well on tests — that learning comes easily to them. In the highly selective college admissions process, admissions officers at elite colleges always prefer students who demonstrate that learning comes easily to them over students who have to work hard for top grades. While surprising to many, hard work is not highly valued in the admissions process.

Students At Non-AP Schools Can Often Take AP Exams

And students don’t need to attend a high school with a set AP curriculum, or take a specific AP class, to sit and take AP exams. Students can always ask their high school — whether the school offers AP coursework or not — to order the exams. Yes, even students at an International Baccalaureate school can sit and take AP exams.

AP Exams Are Self-Reported

One of the great things about AP exams is that they’re self-reported, so students can choose which exams to submit to colleges and which to withhold. The College Board, the maker of the AP exams, will never share AP scores with a college that a student doesn’t wish to be submitted. In fact, most elite colleges no longer even ask for score reports from College Board. Scores are instead self-reported by applicants, though many colleges will ask to verify those scores before enrollment.

When Should Low AP Scores Be Withheld from Elite Colleges?

Many Stress About Which AP Scores to Submit and Which to Withhold

Yet even though AP exams are self-reported, many students and parents get stressed out about which exams should be reported and which should be withheld. And while no hard and fast rule applies to all college applicants, allow us to share some of Ivy Coach’s guidance with you.

Admissions Officers Expect to See AP Scores for AP Courses Taken

If a student takes an AP course at their high school, admissions officers expect to see that score. If the score is not self-reported, admissions officers will be inclined to presume the student scored a 1 or a 2 on the exam. So even if a student scored a 3, it’s safe to assume admissions officers will assume even worse.

AP Scores Are Only Gravy If AP Courses Not Taken

If a student does not take an AP course at their high school and instead self-studies for the exam, admissions officers will not expect to see a score. As such, it’s safe for students not to report a score for such an exam if it’s lower than they had hoped. If a student takes an AP course outside of their high school for a grade and admissions officers will see this course from the outside institution, admissions officers will also expect to see the corresponding AP score. The absence of this score on the student’s application will likely lead admissions officers to presume the student scored a 1 or 2.

Deciding Which AP Scores to Report Is Situation-Dependent

That said, choosing whether or not to submit an AP score to colleges depends on other factors. If, for instance, a student has over 10 5’s on AP exams, admissions officers are unlikely to notice or care about an AP exam that wasn’t reported for an AP course that a student took at their high school. If, however, a student has only 2 5’s, admissions officers are likely to notice and care about the missing AP score for the AP course the student took at their high school.

Interpreting AP Scores in Admissions is a Human Process

So, long story short, it’s important to understand that human beings are interpreting AP scores at America’s top colleges. Submitting a series of 5’s can wow admissions officers. Not submitting AP scores for AP courses students take at their high school can raise red flags. But there are no hard and fast rules, such as not submitting 4s or 3s, as some suggest because, in some cases, students should submit those lower scores since admissions officers will assume even worse if they withhold them.

Ivy Coach’s Assistance with AP Exams

If your child need tutoring for an AP exam, Ivy Coach offers tutoring in most AP disciplines. If you need advice on which AP exams to take, which to report, and which to withhold, fill out Ivy Coach’s consultation form, and we’ll be in touch to outline our college counseling services.

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