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Information on the College Board's AP exams, AP test scores for college, what a good AP exam score is, and how to apply to college with low AP scores.

Sending AP Scores to Colleges - What Should I Report?

July 18, 2020 by Veritas Essays Team | AP Exams, Admissions, Ivy League

Here are answers to 5 common questions about AP exams, AP score reports, and how AP scores affect college admissions chances.

(1) Do AP scores matter when applying to top colleges?

Yes. AP scores demonstrate proficiency in a subject that has been standardized in a way that can be used to evaluate candidates across the country. It used to be expected that for schools like Stanford/MIT/Ivies, applicants should have at least half a dozen AP scores with 4’s and 5’s (assuming that their high school offered them).

However, low AP exam scores are not necessarily bad, as will be explained below.

(2) What is the distribution of AP exam scores?

In 2018, the distribution of AP exam scores for all exams was as follows. (Data taken from this Tableau visualization)

STEM Exams

Arts & Humanities Exams

Language Exams

Social Sciences Exams

(3) Does having mostly AP scores of 3's and 4’s hurt my college admissions chances?

Yes, if that’s the best you have to offer. An AP Score of 3 or 4 will likely not get you any college credit or respect at a top school like Stanford/Ivies/MIT.

A score of 5 may not either — top colleges like to think that their courses are more rigorous than APs and thus should not be passed out of, and earning a 5 is simply expected for top admits.

(4) Since I can self-report by AP exam scores, do I have to report all of my scores to colleges or do I not have that obligation? Will low AP scores hurt my chances?

You can save yourself from low AP exam scores by simply choosing to NOT self-report your 3’s.

Colleges ask you to self-report scores for a reason. If you were expected to submit all of your exam scores, then colleges would simply make reporting mandatory, just as they already do for the SAT/ACT.

Top colleges will let you self-report your AP scores. Take advantage of that and don’t report scores that you don't want to share. Including 3’s will weaken your application to a school like Stanford.

Only a year ago, this would not have been the case. Schools would have read your omission of AP scores as suspicious.

However, things are different in 2020 because of COVID-19. Schools are much more understanding of students who report fewer AP scores this cycle.

But don’t take my word for it.

Here is Yale’s Dean of Admissions Jeremiah Quinlan on the matter:

Students who have completed AP Exams, IB Exams, or AICE Exams prior to submitting their applications may opt to self-report scores in the application, but there is no expectation that students enrolled in academic-year courses associated with any of these tests complete exams in spring or summer 2020.”

And Dartmouth’s Dean of Admissions Lee Coffin :

At Dartmouth, we will welcome any testing element a student chooses to share—the SAT, the ACT, a subject test, an AP score—or none at all.

Our admission committee will review each candidacy without second-guessing the omission or presence of a testing element.

And an official statement from Columbia’s Admissions Office :

Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), SAT Subject Test and other proficiency exam scores are not required by Columbia, but we will accept your results if you choose to submit them in the testing section of your Common Application or Coalition Application. Optional SAT Subject Test scores can also be submitted on the Columbia application status page after you have applied.

You will not be at a disadvantage should you choose not to take these optional tests or submit the scores to Columbia.

(5) How do I know which AP scores I should report? Don't schools have different standards for what they consider a "good" or "bad" score?

Here’s a quick method for determining whether you should submit your score to a specific school or not (Stanford is shown below).

First, go to the College Board's AP Credit Checker here.

Second, type in the college to which you’re applying. The website will pull up a list of every AP exam and the school’s policy on granting academic credit for that exam.

Third, look at the Min Score Required column of results. This tells you the minimum score needed for that college to give you academic credit for taking that AP.

If your AP score is below this threshold, then you probably should not report it. You should only self-report scores that make you look smart.

(6) How prestigious is the "AP Scholar with Honour" award? Will it increase my chances of getting into a top college in the US?

Let’s do some math. According to The College Board, in 2019 the following numbers of students received AP Scholar awards (listed in increasing prestige):

  • AP Scholar: 305,822 students
  • AP Scholar with Honor: 128,491 students
  • AP Scholar with Distinction: 219,925 students

The “AP Scholar with Honor” is the 2nd most prestigious AP merit award.

That means that every year, 348,416 students will receive an AP Scholarship award that is equivalent to or more prestigious than your AP Scholar with Honor award.

According to The College Board, the “AP Scholar with Honor” is given to students who fulfill this criterion:

Granted to students who receive an average score of at least 3.25 on all AP Exams taken, and scores of 3 or higher on four or more of these exams

The College Board used to give out 10 AP-based merit awards. However, in an effort to “reduce the burden on students, the AP Program is discontinuing awards that encourage students to take large numbers of exams” starting in 2021.

These are marked with asterisks in the chart below:

And the State AP Scholarships were also discontinued:

5 Tricks to Get Accepted with a Low GPA

Is it possible to get into a top college with a low GPA?

July 10, 2020 by Veritas Essays Team | How To, GPA, Admissions, Chances, B Student, Ivy League, AP Exams, SAT, Essays

Can low GPA (i.e. "B" students) get accepted into a top school?

The answer is a bit more nuanced than a hard "yes" or "no."

Are you a "B" student, or have you gotten B's?

Though these questions sound the same, their answers have very different consequences for the purposes of college admissions.

I went through every top university that reported the distribution of unweighted GPAs for its admitted students, and plotted them below.


The small black sliver at the top represents students with a “ B ” average or worse (3.0 GPA).

These are students with extremely extra-ordinary circumstances, so unless you have a building named after you or can throw a 95mph fastball, a “B” average is likely disqualifying. Thus, averaging a straight “B” is likely a death knell for top colleges.

All is not lost, however, if you generally do well in school but have a handful of B’s (e.g. a GPA between 3.6–3.8).

Having a lower GPA will require you to play your cards more thoughtfully, but you are still very much in contention for a spot at a top university.

Here are 5 tricks for making your application stand out despite a lower GPA.

1. Take more APs

Since they are graded on a 5-point scale, you can raise your weighted GPA to appear more in-line with a college’s admissions standards. The average weighted GPAs of Ivy League admits, shown in the USA Today chart below, is quite attainable:


2. Ace your standardized tests.

A high SAT or ACT score can help offset a lower GPA by demonstrating that you have the intellectual ability to perform at a high level.

3. Shine elsewhere in your application.

Your essays, for example, are a fantastic place to explain or indirectly shed light on personal circumstances that may have caused your lower GPA.

They also allow you to directly frame your application and convey why you — and only you — can add something uniquely meaningful to the incoming class.

As Logan Powell, Dean of Admissions at Brown University, writes:

“The essay is one of only two places where the student can tell us exactly who they are, in their own words (the other place is the interview).”

And Mitch Warren , Director of Admissions at Purdue University, adds:

"We receive about 54,000 applications from high school students each year, and despite that really large number, [the essay] truly is an individual and holistic review...[it] helps us to better understand the life of the applicant, especially things with grit, humor, motivation. I think also it helps tell stories that we may not have picked up on elsewhere in the application."

This is something that our Ivy League mentors specialize in.

4. Show an upward trajectory

If you got straight B’s freshman year but gradually worked your way up to consecutive semesters of straight A’s as a senior, then colleges will look much more favorably upon your transcript, as it demonstrates growth as a student.

As Dartmouth Assistant Director of Admissions Ariel writes,

[W]hen we review an applicant's transcript, we look at grade trends that will help us understand a student's academic trajectory in his or her secondary school.

We see transcripts that show steady grades throughout a student's high school career or a positive/upward trend from 9th-12th grade. We see transcripts where a student has bounced back from a transition or dip in grades. We also see downward trends in grades.

We use the rest of the application to try to fill in WHY the trend looks the way it does. If you have a particular reason for, say, a dip in grades in your junior year, please let us know about it in the "Additional Information" section of the Common Application.

Keep in mind that we will be looking to see how you have done in your most recent coursework since this will be a good indicator of how ready you are to move into a rigorous academic environment at Dartmouth.

5. Take the hardest classes offered

The negative impact of lower grades can be partially softened if they occurred while taking the hardest classes your school offers.

In the eyes of admissions officers, taking a rigorous course-load and challenging yourself, even if you do get a B or B+, can be equally as important as acing your classes.

An aside: These high GPA cut-offs are largely due to (1) increasingly high numbers of applicants and (2) rising grade inflation at the high school level.