When I was in high school, I took enough Advanced Placement classes to have my first semester of college completed before I even moved in to the dorms. I took AP Calculus, Microeconomics, Macroeconomics, Literature, Language, US History, World History and French. I worked my butt off to score 5′s on those tests. I spent hours in the offices of my professors. I convinced one amazing college math major named Greyling to tutor me out of the kindness of his heart. And when my senior year of high school was done, I felt proud of all that I had accomplished. When I went to college, I was academically prepared.
Obviously, I am a fan of the AP system. I think it rewards a lot of hard work done by high school students who are trying to get a leg up in college. It gives these students time and opportunity to take a semester abroad or explore other academic interests. And Dartmouth College is about to lose all of that, because they’re refusing to grant credit to students who passed their AP tests.
Ivy League schools have placed restrictions on the usage of AP credits for years. They only accept so many credits. Sometimes they only apply the credits to your electives and refuse to let them count for required courses in your field of study. Other schools only accept 4′s or 5′s, even though a 3 is still considered a passing grade. I can understand and appreciate these restrictions, especially given how rigorous these prestigious universities are.
However, refusing to grant any credit for these classes at all just doesn’t make sense to me. It seems to minimize a student’s hard work and accomplishment. And as some Dartmouth alumni have pointed out, it might just be an excuse to squeeze extra money from students who are already paying upwards of $50,000 a year.
According to Dartmouth, Advanced Placement courses have become too common-place. They believe that the classes are no longer the equivalent of an introductory college class, and that students who skip ahead due to AP classes aren’t prepared for their workload. All of these concerns pose serious problems and they deserve to be addressed, but simply ignoring AP credits all together is not the answer. Especially since the Dartmouth admissions team will doubtlessly still use AP classes and scores to decide who gets accepted. Basically, students will still have to take the classes and score well, they just won’t get any credit for the efforts anymore.
However, one Dartmouth alum sees things differently. Jen Dziura, a writer for our sister-site The Gloss, graduated from Dartmouth in 2000. She entered the school with 5 perfect 5′s on AP tests, though even then, not all of the scores transferred over as credits. Dziura explained to me just what she thinks about AP credits and whether they should qualify at her Alma Mater.
I think Dartmouth’s decision was totally appropriate. No matter how demanding my high school APs were, they were basically just an appropriate prerequisite for walking in the door at Dartmouth. In fact, maybe Dartmouth should go a step further and require those who don’t have enough AP credits to take a remedial summer program.
However, there are benefits to the AP program that will undoubtedly be lost to students. A high school friend of mine who recently graduated with his doctorate in chemistry from Stanford credits his AP classes with helping him find his field. In an email, he told me:
Personally, having a bunch of AP credit helped me find my ideal career. Without the AP credit I came in with, I wouldn’t have been able to pull off a double major, unless I overloaded on classes. That would have been really difficult to do while running cross country and track. And if I had to lose one of my majors, I probably would have dropped chemistry. Thankfully, my college accepted all my AP credit and I had more freedom to explore classes without worrying about random elective graduation requirements.
I think there is a case to be made for more rigorous AP courses. I think we need to be concerned about high schools “teaching the test” and failing to really prepare their students for college. And Jen reminded me of another important lesson in growing up, our ability to move past our previous achievements and start again as a beginner in our field, working our way back up to the top.
While I accept all of that, I don’t think throwing away AP credit is the solution. I don’t think it would hard Dartmouth or their educational integrity to accept AP classes as elective credit or allow it to fulfill basic educational requirements so that students have more time to explore various areas of interest. In the end, Dartmouth is just limiting their students, and maybe helping their bottom line a bit.