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Articles / Applying to College / Must Daughter Take "Mandatory" AP Exam?

Jan. 26, 2014

Must Daughter Take "Mandatory" AP Exam?

Question: My daughter takes AP Chem but will need to repeat chemistry at college so we rather not spend the money to take the AP exam. The high school she attends says she has to. Can they insist on this?

My son took AP Chem and he also goes to a high school where AP tests are required for all students who take the corresponding class. This information is made very clear to students and parents before they elect the AP class. I don't know if anyone has ever challenged the policy and … if so … what the outcome was when they did … or how much legal wrangling was involved.

But here are a few thoughts:


1. You can pursue this with the school administration but, if they are firm about the test requirement, you might have to enlist a lawyer, which will end up costing a lot more than an AP test will cost. (But if the high school did not make the test requirement clear before enrollment, you will be in better shape to contest it.)

2. If your daughter does not take the AP test and thus does not report a score to colleges, some admission officials will wonder WHY she didn't report a score (especially if they are aware of the mandatory-test policy at her high school.) It could reflect poorly on her because they will assume that she got a bad score. Of course, she can use the “Additional Information" section of her applications to explain that she didn't take the test for financial reasons and also because she had no need for the chemistry credits in college. Colleges may or may not accept this reason as valid. And their view of it might depend on their cursory assessment of your household finances. For instance, a student from a single-parent home with an unemployed mother will be regarded differently than a student from a home with two professional parents. In the latter case, the college folks may question the validity of your daughter's excuse and this could work against her … at least in some small way.

3. The fact that your daughter will have to repeat chemistry in college will have little bearing on this issue, if you knew up front that the AP test was required. In addition, if she earns a high score on this exam, most (though not all) colleges will count these credits and they don't necessarily have to replace a chemistry class. In other words, your daughter would walk through the college gates on Day One with college credits under her belt and she might be able to use these credits later on to make up a failed class in another area or to compensate for any shortfall that occurs for a range of reasons. Colleges have widely varying policies when it comes to the ways they allow students to use AP credits, so your daughter's choice of school will obviously affect the value of the credits she might earn from faring well on the AP Chem exam.

Bottom line: if it were my own son in this situation, I would tell him to take the test. But if the money is a serious concern, go to the high school officials first and see what they recommend. You can also try asking other CC members on the Parents forum if they were ever in this situation and how it played out.

Sorry that I can't give you better news, but I think that you may be on thin ice with this one.

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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