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March 14, 2017
AP Classes and AP Tests, collectively that college-level high school curriculum so long considered validators of college aptitude, are quickly disappearing from the curriculum lists of some of the most competitive private and public high schools in the nation. As a result, AP courses, once considered a staple of competitive admission success, are no longer prerequisites for elite college admission. That does not mean, however, that admissions officers frown upon them. Nor does it mean that AP tests are losing their long-standing appeal to college admissions departments. Rather, the current state of affairs with respect to AP courses and tests is that they are rudderless ships, caught up in turbulent ocean currents, on a journey whose final destination cannot yet be predicted or foreseen.

But is it true that competitive colleges still expect students to take as many APs as possible in order to demonstrate 1) their willingness to take on a rigorous curriculum and 2) their ability to excel at college-level course material? Where do the colleges stand in the raging battle over curriculum, high-stakes testing, and admission? Do they still see AP courses and tests as shining sapphires strewn among grains of mediocrity? Or, like some elite high schools, are colleges snubbing their collective noses at students who feel they can game the system simply by stuffing their applications with an entourage of AP courses and tests?

According to one Ivy League admission official, “We don't care if it’s AP, International Baccalaureate® or honors, as long as students take academically rigorous courses that fall within their interests. Taking AP tests just for the sake of doing so isn’t going to move the needle for us.” Asked about AP tests and their correlation to college success, she replied: “The only thing that seems to correlate whatsoever is 5s,” referring to the 1-5 scale on which AP tests are graded. “Even then, only literature and history seem to correlate, especially European History of all things,” she replied with more than a bit of incredulity.

While a student who would like to attend a top college should most definitely continue to select AP courses and take AP tests each May, she need not be concerned if her school's course catalog doesn’t offer a whole slew of AP branded courses. A student should not fault his school or consider transferring out just because that school chooses not to submit to the AP hysteria that is the rapture of thousands of schools and millions of students across the world. The journey through high school should be one of consistent migration across a broad landscape rather than a series of dramatic leaps over tall buildings. School is for learning, not for bragging. And colleges across America would rather see you enjoy the journey than suffer from acute exhaustion on the AP mountain that you decided to climb simply because it was there.

Neil Chyten can be reached for further comment at nchyten@chyten.com.