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AP exams are going to take on a greater role (sadly) in college admissions as the SATII subject tests were eliminated in 2021.

College Admissions Planning: Insider Tips:   AP Exams: Everything you need to know!

 In this IV-Part series- you’ll learn everything you need to know about the role of AP Exams in College Admissions and College Planning, including”
– AP Courses / Exams to take and why
–  Scoring and College Credit
–  Test Preparation Tips
So much has changed in college entrances exam requirements this past year during the pandemic. Last year this time I wrote about how the format of AP exams were being changed for May 2020. It was a mess—as so many of my own clients reported issues with uploading their responses in their at-home virtual test taking and many students received scores lower than anticipated. The change from a traditional 3 hour exam to a 1 hour at-home format in May 2020 didn’t go that well for everyone. That cycle had an impact on all students who took exams hoping to earn college credit. Moreover, those scores impacted placement in sequential undergraduate coursework in mathematics, science, and foreign languages for the then seniors who arrived on campus this past fall (and those scores will impact currently enrolled high school students-).

Today I will focus on how enrolling in an AP curriculum can help high school students set and realize educational goals. AP classes introduce students to potential academic paths and spark further academic interests and discovery.


provide the educational foundation to prepare students for subsequent undergraduate coursework. Success in AP courses and on AP exams demonstrates you’ve mastered content and are ready for the challenges of a rigorous undergraduate experience.

with College Consultant Bonnie Rabin, PhD
What inspires your student?
What are you passionate About?
Are you allocating time to deepen that interest?
As I discussed in my recent newsletter on academic course planning, nearly all high schools require similar graduation requirements- 20 to 24 units across a core curriculum in math, science, language arts social studies and foreign language. This college prep curriculum aligns closely with the requirements for college acceptances. Colleges aim to assess each applicant’s readiness for college level coursework. While there’s little difference across high schools in the course sequencing- the most significant differences are achieved by enrollment in the most challenging coursework each student can comfortably manage. Coursework may include honors or more advanced leveling in AP/AICE or IB courses.
More challenging courses prepare students for their subsequent post-secondary work and allow students to discover academic interests. I always encourage students to leverage their strengths but also to seek out those courses and challenges that are most joyful.
The single most important goal of high school is for each student to develop a love of learning both within and outside the classroom – often accomplished by creating meaningful connections with others — collaborating on projects at school, in community organizations, and in extracurricular pursuits.
Learning about the types of problems and innovations taking place in a variety of potential fields can be inspirational. Inspiration if you’re lucky happens at school- but more often than not it’s beyond a textbook or classroom.
Having an opportunity to intern, solve problems, take an EdX course or explore in a collegiate summer program can help to develop a very specific interest area – your niche!
Discovery is sparked within the classroom – but it’s nurtured in hands-on activities- sometimes this takes planning to find that opportunity.
I have so many ideas- let’s talk! But first- let’s talk about why you should enroll in AP classes and which ones are most essential for a variety of different academic interests.


Which AP classes are most appropriate?

As I write about often- college admissions officers want to know that students have takent the most challenging and relevant coursework. They also want to know why you selected your major. Your transcript is the most important predictor of your success as an undergraduate.
AP courses and exams, these provide an opportunity for students to learn more challenging and collegiate level concepts and demonstrate mastery of content. Successfully completing an AP course will provide you with the academic foundation for success in subsequent college level courses. You may even decide to repeat what you think is the same course once arriving on campus.
Regular readers of my blogs and newsletters know that I encourage every high school student to aim to find an appropriate and healthy balance between your academic and personal demands to avoid overextending and unnecessary (family) stress. High school should be joyful! Students take the lead in exploration of their own best practices on learning, time management and personal discover.

Should high students enroll in AP classes? Why?

Which AP courses should students complete?

If possible, absolutely take at least 1 to 3 courses during high school! The AP curriculum offers the most challenging courses available and completing a course will prepare students for the reality of the demands of the undergraduate academic experience ahead.
The Advanced Placement (AP) curriculum provides high school students an option to explore college-level classes across a variety of subjects including Science, History & Social Studies, Math & Computer Science, English, Foreign Language, Art and Music.
For a complete list of the 38 available AP course and their descriptions CLICK HERE for AP COURSES.
The content of material covered on end-of-year exams is taught in either a full academic year or a semester (i.e. AP Microeconomics, AP Macroeconomics, AP Physics C – Mechanics). The actual course content is uniform for all test takers throughout the US. Sadly, what’s inconsistent is the level of instruction – most high schools do a phenomenal job at instruction.
Not all AP Courses are offered in every high school. If there’s an exam that fits your longer-term academic interests that’s unavailable at your high school, there are many online and privately available sources of instruction for AP courses. Students can also engage in independent study and sit for an AP exam regardless of whether the course is offered at your high school or completed in any formal setting.
Beyond the high school graduation requirements in your state (20 to 24 credits), the classes you select serve some important roles:
  • Courses, and in particular-your electives- can help each student explore, develop and deepen an academic interest.
  • Core/required and elective courses allow students to better prepare for subsequent academic success. Sequencing is important as are appropriate challenges. For example, a foundation in math is essential for STEM fields and AP art can develop core skills and expand a portfolio.
  • The high school transcript reveals a student’s ability to succeed as a undergraduate and has a direct impact on the likelihood of college admission. Avoid following the crowd! Admissions officers want to see that students engaged in self-discovery and one aspect of that process is completing the most challenging set of relevant coursework a student can comfortably manage.
Despite the best of intentions and the best time management, enrolling in too many AP classes can create hours of homework thus limiting time available for meaningful extracurricular activities (which are also essential for admissions success), needed sleep and family harmony (parent-child dynamics suffer when students are stressed and unnecessary homework completion “arguments” ensue).
For example, if your student is STEM focused, there is little admissions advantage gained taking AP History classes which have exceptionally large homework demands.
Again, admissions representatives aren’t impressed by APUSH on a STEM applicant’s high school transcript. The flip side, humanities driven students might consider the importance of “big data”! All disciplines are now moving to analytics. So, while AP Physics isn’t necessarily your cup of tea, if you’re a pre-law, business or even an aspiring English major, consider AP Statistics, AP Psychology or AP Computer Science adding breadth to your file setting you apart from the typical humanities applicant.

College Admissions RECOMMENDATIONS – Which AP Courses to Take ?

Students of all majors should take AP English Language or AP Literature! Every student needs to continue to focus on the skills acquired in these courses. You may even place out of freshman English and can take a more interesting or advanced writing class as an undergraduate.
Recommended AP Biology, AP Chemistry
Optional: AP Calculus, AP Psychology, AP Statistics, AP Physics
Engineering/Computer Science:
Recommended: AP Chemistry, AP Physics (1 or C) AP Calculus, AP CS Principles and/or AP CS A
Optional: AP Statistics
Recommended: AP Calculus, AP Statistics, 1+ AP History classes, AP Macro Econ, AP Micro Econ
Optional AP Psychology, AP Foreign Language
Humanities/Social Sciences
Recommended AP History 2+, AP Psychology, AP Foreign Language
Optional AP Research, AP Psychology, AP Statistics
Visual/Performing Arts:
AP Art 2D/3D, AP Art History, AP Music
Optional: AP History, AP Psychology, AP Foreign Language
If the thought of taking an AP science or mathematics class in high school sounds ominous – you’re probably not an engineer or scientist- but I’m certain I can help you re-direct into a multi-disciplinary STEM-related field. But don’t stress, because no one has to define their life or field of interest at 16, 26 or even 36.

What’s the relationship between AP exams and those discontinued SAT II Subject Tests I wrote about in my earlier blog?

While you may not yet know the colleges you’ll be applying to during your senior year, we do know that many of the most selective universities used to require SATII subject tests.
 Also, some of the test-flexible universities accepted subject tests/AP exams in lieu of ACT/SAT1 scores (i.e. NYU, U Chicago).  So while COVID has changed the college testing requirements for 2021-22 – with many colleges again opting to adopt test optional policies, the absence of subject tests most certainly will shift the focus to AP scores.
AP scores provide uniform evaluation of students across high schools. Currently enrolled juniors and sophomores should aim do well in any of their AP courses as the corresponding SATII subject tests have been eliminated.
There’s very little variation in curriculum options across high schools in that all students will complete four years of English, four years of social studies, complete a foreign language and enroll in the math and science classes at a level they can manage.
The differences across high schools and across students are in the electives taken and in whether students enroll in Honors or AP/IB/AICE levels of classes.



First and foremost- be yourself because everyone else is taken! That’s not cliché-it is truly the most important piece of advice I can provide.
Discover an area that you are truly passionate about and dive in!  Demonstrate informed interest thru experiences.
Applicants must clearly demonstrate “informed interest”!
Your application must leave no shadow of a doubt that you are prepared to succeed in your demanding academic major.
 Demonstrating you understand the challenges ahead is essential.
“Informed interest” can be demonstrated through:
  • In addition to completion of AP coursework, engage in sustained formal or informal extracurricular activities and independent projects (we have plenty of ideas for an independent project)
  • Research: participation in local, regional and national competitions working with our competition educator. An AP class often includes a project or paper that can be the springboard for a larger project and a competitive venue.
  • Thoughtful college specific supplemental essays showcasing maturity and self-directed exploration of a potential narrow area of interest (i.e. stochastic processes in Financial Modeling, Genomics, Artificial Intelligence applications to bio-diversity modelling, pharmaceutical development or language processing and interpretation.)

  I look forward to hearing more about your emerging academic and personal interests to help navigate a path for success and impact. Don’t be challenged by college application essay prompts that ask “How will you innovate to change the work”– begin your discovery as early as 8th grade!
Have an awesome day!
Warm Regards!
Bonnie R. Rabin, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus & Cornell Alumni Rep
Educational and College Admissions Consultant
Florida 561.509.0021
Colorado 720.737.9944
Nationwide  833.MY.ESSAY