Colleges should reevaluate how AP exams are weighed

As high school seniors across the nation submit the last of their college applications, it is worth considering the role of Advanced Placement classes and exams in the college admissions process. The AP system has long been controversial, and with good reason. Research suggests that it disproportionately disadvantaged minority and low-income students who are more likely to attend schools that do not offer these courses. This ultimately raises the question of to what extent AP classes should be weighed in the admissions process, as well as what solutions exist, if any, to amend this current cycle of inequality.

According to a report by the Atlantic, despite how universities claim to consider the availability of AP courses at students’ schools when comparing applicants, there still persists an implicit advantage favoring students with access to these courses. Even if a student’s school offers AP courses, there are too many cases of students being unable to pay the fee to take the exams. In this sense, the AP system appears to inherently promote income inequity in universities by contributing to the current phenomenon of income being a deciding factor in whether or not students attend college as well as the prestige of the college they attend.

It is true that the accessibility of AP courses and exams in more well-off school districts is just one of many advantages they have over districts in low-income communities. Students from more economically advantaged schools also have the privilege of counselors, organizations facilitating student involvement and college preparation and preparation for standardized tests like the ACT and SAT, among many other resources. On top of the inequality that naturally arises when it comes to who has access to the AP system and who doesn’t, there is controversy as to the extent to which AP courses truly reflect college readiness. Material is often condensed in order to be taught over the course of less than a year in AP classes, and experts question how well a single exam can reflect a student’s expertise in any given subject.

It is impossible to account for all of the economic inequality in schools across the country, but reevaluating the way AP tests and classes are regarded in the admissions process could make a difference in the academic prospects of poor and minority students. Institutions of higher learning must adopt fairer standards for how AP courses and exams are weighed in the admissions process.

According to USC’s website, there is “no minimum requirement or absolute ‘cutoff’ for grades, class rank, or test scores.” USC states that it “evaluates prospective students through an individualized, comprehensive review process that takes these, and many other factors, into account,” but additionally notes that first-year students are often “from the top 10 percent of their high school classes.” It must be applauded when college admissions panels more holistically approach the admissions process. But simultaneously, universities such as USC must also be more transparent about the role of AP courses and exams in their decision-making for prospective undergraduate students, reach out to underprivileged communities to promote true diversity on their campuses and also educate students attending schools with less access to the AP system about alternative ways they can demonstrate their academic ambition.

Ultimately, college admissions panels cannot simply cease to consider AP courses and tests as a whole; there is no perfect system for measuring students’ academic aptitude and ambition, and it would be inefficient to sweepingly throw out a system that has long been in place rather than simply reform it and make it more accessible to everyone. Elite institutions like USC must involve themselves in pushing the College Board to lower costs for AP exams, on top of participating in outreach to engage, support and educate students of disadvantaged communities. There must be more transparency in weighing students’ AP scores and grades in AP classes, as well as how they evaluate the academic records of students who lack this privilege.

It is deeply unsettling that the socioeconomic position of students is a decisive predictor of whether or not they will attend college, as well as the ranking of the college they attend. Their access to private tutoring, counseling and, of course, AP classes and tests, through economic privilege, has contributed to the current state of economic inequity and the underrepresentation of minority students in campuses across the nation. Campuses with less diversity are ultimately detrimental to their students, who will have less exposure to different identities and the wide range of ideas that naturally come from diverse communities. Universities must make fostering diversity on campus not just a goal but a priority. It starts wth reevaluating how AP exams and courses are weighed in the admissions process.

1 reply
  1. Lil Gochu
    Lil Gochu says:

    Cheung and Wakhlu, let me ask y’all some questions. Have you lived in a lower socioeconomic setting, like I have? Do you know what the culture and the schools are like over there in the hood? I do. I am a product of the LAUSD up until 6th grade. Then after that, I attended some “privileged,” predominately white and E Asian, middle and high schools. I know firsthand, how the kids act at LAUSD. And the way you describe the “unfair” advantages that schools in the suburb receive is complete bullshit. If you provide the tools and resources to students in “disadvantaged” communities, do you honestly believe they will take advantage of them??

    Get off the liberal activism bandwagon. Y’all got it twisted. No street cred, no hood pass for y’all. It’s all just conjecture and incessant “blame the system; it’s racist” bullshit…..If a black or brown person wrote this article, which I presume you two aren’t, I wouldn’t put you on blast. You try too hard.

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