An Independent School • Grades 5-12
The truth about Advanced Placement exams (APs) – and why we're cutting back
The truth about Advanced Placement exams (APs) – and why we're cutting back

by Ari Worthman, director of college counseling  

Parents and guardians often ask, "How important are APs in the college application process?" The answer is they're not!

No U.S. colleges require AP exams in the application process. Students who earn high scores can earn credit or place out of introductory classes at some colleges, but not all.

Most high schools that administer AP testing also offer the corresponding Advancement Placement course. The tests are scaled from 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest. Tests, which are administered by the College Board, are like final exams: culminating assessments of what students learned throughout the year. When colleges review applications from schools with which they are unfamiliar, strong AP results can validate the strength of curriculum. When I was invited to observe Duke University's admissions committee a few years ago, I heard a conversation about an applicant from rural Texas. The committee was impressed by his grades but unsure about the school's quality and whether, despite the student's strong performance, he was prepared for the rigor of Duke. However, when they saw his strong AP results, their concerns were assuaged.

For years, Lakeside has not offered AP classes, choosing instead to develop our own challenging and in-depth coursework that our teachers believe better prepares students for college. Lakeside regularly hosts college reps, giving them a close-up view of our rigorous academics and the strong character and capabilities of our student body. Our college counselors travel across the country and globe to visit schools, network with college admission officers, learn of new opportunities, and advocate for Lakeside students. Finally, colleges see our alumni's strong performances on their campuses; they do not need AP results to verify that Lakeside students are well prepared for college.

There are some Lakeside classes where the content overlaps significantly with the AP curriculum. But in most cases, it does not. Students who take APs in these areas are, essentially, taking a final exam for a class they have not taken. Even if students study on their own, it can be difficult to sufficiently prepare while also balancing their classes and activities.  

The last few years, there has been an uptick in students taking APs for which they are unprepared. The results are low scores, absences from class (APs are administered during the school day in May), and additional stress for students prepping for unnecessary exams.

Beginning this year, Lakeside will offer APs only in subject areas in which there is significant content overlap between our classes and the AP curriculum. By limiting the number of AP tests we are offering to those for which we feel our students are prepared, we hope to limit unnecessary testing and reduce student stress, while still giving students an opportunity to potentially earn college credit or place into upper-level collegiate coursework. The AP exams we will offer are listed below.

All 11th graders will benefit from this change. Reducing the number of APs will allow them to work with their college counselor on what is most important this coming semester: brainstorming college essay topics, selecting teacher recommenders, and preparing for the summer – all of which occur during the AP exam period.

If a student feels prepared for additional APs through self-study, they can contact their local public school about taking the test there. Many public schools welcome outside students to their campuses for APs, and Lakeside will excuse the absence.

Registration for APs for sophomores, juniors, and seniors will open late February or early March. Students should be on the lookout for an email from Sam Freccia, associate director of college counseling, for registration information.

To recap: As parents and guardians help their students consider the pros and cons of APs, they should:

  1. Remember that APs are unimportant in the U.S. college application process. Students are better served devoting time to prepping for the ACT or SAT (and SAT Subject tests in some cases). If you'd like a recap of standardized test options, check out my Sept. 27 article, "Getting smart about standardized tests."
  2. Keep in mind that colleges understand the strong caliber of Lakeside. Our students do not need AP results to verify they are prepared for college.
  3. Encourage your student to talk with their teachers and advisor (and college counselor, if in 11th or 12th grade) about whether APs are right for them.

Lakeside will offer the following AP tests in May 2019. Visit our secure Resources page, accessible from Veracross, to see which Lakeside classes prepare students for APs. 

English Language and Composition
English Literature and Composition

Calculus AB
Calculus BC
Computer Science A

Physics C – Electricity and Magnetism
Physics C - Mechanics

Chinese Language and Culture
French Language and Culture
Spanish Language and Culture

Ari Worthman is Lakeside's director of college counseling. Reach him at