Yep, you nailed. When something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Indeed, some colleges do award credit for 3's. But many don't. Some award credit in some subject areas for 4's and 5's but in other areas for only 5's. Likewise, colleges may give varying amount of credit for the same test result, depending on the AP subject. Confused? You should be!
At Yale, for instance, once you've successfully navigated a labyrinth of Web pages to get to the chart on this one http://www.yale.edu/yalecollege/freshmen/academics/acceleration/table.html you'll find that a score of 5 on the AP Biology exam is worth 1 credit, but no credit is awarded for the AP Environmental Science test, regardless of score. Those who earn a 4 or a 5 on AP Computer Science AB will also get 1 credit but nothing for AP Comp Sci A. French stand-outs will be happy to know that a 4 or 5 will provide 2 credits at Yale; ditto in German. You get the picture.
In other words, not only does each college or university make its own rules, but often individual departments within an institution get that right, too.
This College Board site http://www.collegeboard.com/ap/creditpolicy/institution/0,4098,1846,00.html allows you to type in a school's name and, from there, you are supposed to be directed to the place on the college's own Web site where AP credit policies are spelled out. Sometimes it works well; sometimes it leads to a treasure hunt (with no treasure).
Then, once you've figured out how many credits the test scores are worth, it's a whole other project to decipher what the students are allowed to do with them ("Can be applied only to major-field classes;" "Cannot be applied to courses in the field of concentration;" "Can be used to make up deficiencies but not to accelerate ...")
Good luck and happy hunting!
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