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  • Writer's pictureHollis Bischoff

Understanding what AP credits mean after graduation

Republished with permission from the Los Altos Town Crier. Originally appeared in the November 18, 2015 edition.


Following is the second in a two-part series on Advanced Placement classes. Part 2 explores what happens with AP credits once students matriculate to college.

While admissions is mostly concerned with Advanced Placement classes, colleges are most concerned with AP test scores. Following are some things to consider regarding AP test results.


While a score of 3 is considered passing, not every college awards college credit for a 3. All UC and CSU campuses accept 3 scores for academic credit, but most other colleges publish which AP test scores qualify for credit at their universities. Many colleges require a score of 4 or above to grant credit.


Most universities are looking for AP coursework in related classes when admitting students, but many university academic departments will require a student to take the college-level course if it is related to the student’s major. For example, nearly all engineering programs want incoming freshmen to take AP Physics and AP Calculus, but many programs will not accept credits for those classes, requiring all freshmen to take the classes at their university.

Determining which credits to apply to college classes becomes critical for pre-professional students, like pre-med concentrations. Nearly all medical schools require Chemistry, Physics, Biology and English, and some schools also require Psychology or Sociology and Calculus. These classes must be taken at the college level – AP credit may not be substituted. However, they can stand in for the entry-level classes, as advanced classes may be used in medical school applications.

This often leads to a conundrum, as pre-med students debate GPA protection, which argues for retaking the course and reinforcing knowledge, versus academic challenge by moving directly into the more advanced coursework. Each pre-professional student should start out his or her college curriculum planning by meeting with an academic adviser to map out the best plan.


This is also an area where handling is inconsistent from college to college. Class standing can be calculated two different ways:

  • Based on credits accumulated via community college and dual enrollment, including AP credits awarded. Students who enter their first year with AP credits awarded may have earned sophomore status already.

  • Based on credits earned in “natural” standing, including community college or dual credit earned, but not AP credits awarded – i.e., a first-year student will always be considered a first year, as he or she has not earned the credits in the classroom.

Class standing can have significant impact on everything collegiate where demand exceeds supply, including class registration, housing assignments, campus events, study-abroad opportunities, number of years to graduate and ultimately total cost of college.

The most common way to calculate class standing includes AP credits earned. This is a tremendous advantage for students entering with four or more AP class credits awarded. It can also create a monumental problem for students who did not have access to or were unable to take AP classes in high school.

Putting together students with widely disparate credits awarded creates inflated demand in the upper-division coursework largely favored by college students. It also establishes a two-tier outcome for students. At schools with impacted majors, like UCs and CSUs, this means upper-division classrooms filled with freshmen and sophomores, while junior and senior classmates are unable to get the classes they require to graduate. Those entering with AP credits awarded are able to finish in under four years, while those without can take up to six years. In today’s dollars, that is a difference of as much as $70,000.


Recently, UCLA announced steps to equalize access for all students. Beginning immediately, UCLA class registration will be based on “natural” standing, disregarding AP credits awarded in determining who receives registration priority. Current students and high school seniors have reacted strongly to having their statuses abruptly changed, but UCLA officials remain convinced that the new process will boost four-year graduation rates for more students overall.

The bottom line on AP courses: It is unlikely that a college matriculation decision will be made when it is time to decide on AP courses during sophomore, junior and even senior years. Therefore, take courses based on interest, capacity and challenging academics for preparation for college admission, and leave the worrying about AP college credit granted until after matriculation.

Hollis Bischoff is college admissions adviser for CollegeUnlocked. She earned a graduate certificate in college and career counseling from UCLA and is a Certified Educational Planner. She blogs about college admissions at and blog and tweets at @collegeunlocked. For more information, email

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