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Articles / Applying to College / Ivy Admission without Math/Science AP's?

Ivy Admission without Math/Science AP's?

Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | June 1, 2015


Hi! I just discovered this blog and have found the advice you give extremely helpful. Currently, I am in advanced/AP social studies and English classes as those are my stronger subjects. However, math and science are not my favorite subjects, so I am not in those advanced/AP courses and wouldn’t be until senior year due to my school’s policy. Nevertheless, I have maintained 90-100 grades in my math and science classes and I still would like to apply to top schools. Is it necessary for me to take advanced/AP math and science courses to get into schools like Princeton and Brown if I plan to major in political science/international affairs, or is it possible admissions officers would notice my success in the courses I take and value that instead?

At the most sought-after universities like Princeton and Brown, the vast majority of your “competitor” applicants will have taken all of their academic classes at the highest available level, so you will be at a disadvantage if you are in the “regular” math and science classes. BUT … whether or not your curriculum will be a deal-breaker will really depend on what else you bring to the table. For instance, if you hail from a disadvantaged background, a minority background or have an atypical life story to tell, this would go a long way toward making up for the advanced classes you missed. If your application includes unique activities and accomplishments, this too will help the admission folks overlook the fact that your math and science classes weren’t the most rigorous ones.

But I urge you NOT to choose the hardest math and science classes if it would be stressful for you to do so. It also sounds as if you may be in these tough classes by 12th grade, which is fine. However, keep in mind that, at the hyper-competitive colleges like the Ivies, top grades in a strong curriculum will only get you to the outer gates. Next, the admission folks will be asking, “What is special?” Even applicants who have taken a long list of AP classes will rarely get good news from the most selective colleges unless they also manage to stand out in the crowd.


Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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