AP Facts Worth Knowing About College Credit

AP Test are Important

Once you have taken an AP test and have your score, what should you do with it? While you may have taken an AP class to challenge yourself and demonstrate to colleges that you can handle a rigorous curriculum, colleges also care about the score you received on an AP test.

Once you send a score to a college

When a college receives an AP score, the score will go through articulation. This means the college may use that score to grant you college credit. Scoring a 3 on an AP test may mean that you passed, but it may not necessarily count for credit at a particular college. Most colleges have an AP articulation page on their website that shows score conversions for credit. It’s worth noting that all UC and CSU campuses grant credit for a 3 score. Many other colleges require at least a 4 to grant credit.

Approximately 4,000 colleges accept AP scores, but there are around 51,000 separate policies awarding credit for each subject, so look at each college’s rules.

What AP Credit Does…and doesn’t do

Depending on the academic program you are considering in college, you may have to retake courses even if you have a 4 or 5 on an AP exam. For example, in many STEM programs, a college may require a student to take Physics and Calculus at the collegiate level even if she scored a 5 on these AP exams. You can see how this can be frustrating! However, it is still worth taking these courses (and the corresponding test) as many admissions offices are looking for academically prepared students, and your scores may allow you to receive credit for non-major entry-level courses.

If you are considering a graduate-level program like medical school, this issue deserves further consideration. These students often have to decide between protecting their GPA by retaking these courses (which also reinforces knowledge), and jumping into more advanced coursework. It is recommended to work with the college’s academic advising office early and often to determine an appropriate path, and to see which credits to apply to college courses.

AP Credit and Class Standing

Your class standing in college is determined by the number of credits you have. And, surprise, colleges handle this differently from one another. Class standing is calculated by:

  • Incoming credits before matriculation to the college (AP credit, community college, dual-enrollment) may be added and a student can enter with sophomore standing given he has enough accumulated credit.


  • Incoming credits do not count toward your college standing, only those earned at the college do. In essence, first-year students will always be considered freshmen regardless of the number of units with which they enter.

Why is this important? Well, class standing in college can dictate a lot. From housing assignments, to class registration, to graduation timeline, a student’s class standing can determine his/her priority in these processes.

Entering with a higher class standing can also save students significant time and money. Simply put, finishing in under four years can cost students less. Entering with even four classes worth of AP credit can be significant. Conversely, coming in without credit can delay graduation past four years and end up costing a student more.  

Since the most common way to determine class standing is via AP credits earned, the impact of having access to AP coursework and earning AP credit cannot be overstated.

Bottom Line

Your matriculation to a college is unlikely to be determined solely by how AP credit is applied. If you plan on taking AP courses, your decision should be guided by your interest in the material, your capacity to do well in the course, and how that course will prepare you for college admission and beyond. Do not worry about how AP credit will be applied until it makes sense to do so, but do be aware of how it can be used.

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