Tips from an Admissions Counselor: How AP Scores Are Really Viewed

by Ashley Eneriz

Applying to college can be a bit nerve-racking—especially when you don’t know who you are going up against or what admissions counselors are looking for, exactly. Do they want to see impressive AP scores, or would they rather see hours of community involvement?

Here’s a sneak peek behind the scenes of the admissions process to help you put your best application forward.

What Do Admissions Counselors Really Look At?

Admissions counselors review thousands of students each semester in an effort to determine who would be a good fit for the college and if they can handle the rigors that an undergraduate curriculum will throw at them. Admissions counselors look at applicants’ high school transcripts, test scores, essays, and extracurricular activities to get an idea of who each individual is.

Most admissions counselors won’t look at transcripts from your freshman year of high school, but instead focus on your sophomore and junior years. They are looking to see if you took challenging classes and if your grades reflect a strong effort. Receiving a B in an AP course rather than an A in a regular course might be more appealing to admissions counselors because it shows you took the harder path.

Past your academic achievements, admissions counselors also want to see what makes you unique and how you spend your free time. This is an area where many prospective students can shine. Highlight your extracurricular activities, volunteer services, and individual talents.

Applicants of Azusa Pacific University are also considered on their desire for spiritual growth and church involvement. Your extracurricular activities don’t have to be show-stopping (like a month-long service trip to Africa), but they should highlight your passions and what you offer your community. Admissions counselors typically look at prospective students to see the value they can contribute to—and benefit from—the existing student body.

The Truth About AP Scores

Want to get ahead in college before stepping foot on campus? That’s where Advanced Placement programs come in.

“[AP] exams give students a great opportunity to earn college credit,” explains Mona Thaxter, undergraduate registrar at Azusa Pacific University. “You can save money and get a head start on your degree requirements when you enter college.” Pass four AP exams, and that can translate to 12-18 units of credit, or a full semester of college work.

Thaxter notes that a score of three or higher on an AP exam is considered a passing score, but a higher score can mean more credits. For example, scoring a three or four on the English Literature and Composition exam will grant you three units of credit for English 111, Studies in Literature. However, if you score a five on the exam, you will receive six units of credit for both English 111 and Writing 110, The Art and Craft of Writing.

APU grants college credit for 35 different AP exams. Here is a full list of eligible exams and the class equivalents that are awarded for each passed exam.

When Should I Meet With a Counselor?

All colleges will have different admission requirements, so it is essential to know the various requirements for each school you plan to apply to. It’s a good idea for prospective students to meet with a college admissions counselor in their junior (or senior) year of high school.

The admissions counselor can evaluate your current progress in high school and help you navigate what your next steps should be. A counselor can also let you know if you don’t have the minimum requirements to be accepted into a university, and will advise you on how to apply as a transfer student after completing coursework at a community college.