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Articles / Applying to College / Next Steps When Student is Barred From Taking AP Class
Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | Jan. 23, 2019

Next Steps When Student is Barred From Taking AP Class

Next Steps When Student is Barred From Taking AP Class
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My daughter has to register for next year's classes soon. She had a meeting with her counselor where she was told she can't take AP Physics next year because she didn't get an A or B in her previous physics class. This is a new rule the school says it's putting into place for next year (it wasn't the case this year). But the kids she's going to be competing against to apply to college from neighboring schools aren't under this restrictive rule and will have taken the AP Physics class. We realize this creates an unlevel playing field (which is already not level because the other schools offer more AP art classes than we do). What are our options? Appeal the refusal to put her in AP Physics next year? Try and transfer to another high school for senior year? I don't want her applying to college with 11 APs when students from nearby schools will have more.

Colleges do not compare students at one high school — and the number of AP classes they've taken — head to head with students from other schools. Admission officials evaluate candidates in the context of the courses offerings at their own schools, and they consider the curriculum policies as well. The college folks typically know whether a high school restricts the AP or other advanced classes that a student can take. Such policies are spelled out in the “School Profile" that accompanies each transcript sent to admission offices. You can look at your daughter's School Profile to see if the AP policy is included. (The Profile may be online; if not, ask the guidance staff.) Since the AP policy is new, it may not be. And if that's the case, you should suggest to the guidance director that the Profile is revised, and also request that your daughter's counselor explain this new protocol in her recommendation later.


If your daughter is applying to that handful of hyper-selective places where missing out on AP Physics, when it's offered at her high school, might indeed be a liability, then the sub-B grade that she earned in her initial physics class will probably hurt her more than having one fewer notch on her AP belt. At the majority of colleges, however, the lack of an AP Physics class will not be a deal-breaker, especially if your daughter's course choices are rigorous overall. Eleven APs is a very high number!

As a former teacher myself, I actually agree with the new rule at your daughter's school. Allowing all interested students to enroll in demanding Advanced Placement classes puts undue stress on the students who are not fully prepared for the class, and it's also unfair to make other students endure repeated explanations after they've already grasped the material. On the other hand, I do feel that there should be an opportunity for students to appeal AP exclusions. For instance, if your daughter's grade in her first physics course was affected by illness, absences, family problems, etc. and she now feels ready to tackle the AP class, you can certainly explain the extenuating circumstances and lobby for reconsideration. However, you would be doing your daughter a disservice unless she's convinced that she can hold her own in the AP section.

“The Dean" thinks that transferring to another school for senior year is a terrible idea unless your daughter is miserable at her current one. It will raise a huge red flag for admission committees, who are likely to suspect that there's something else going on besides the AP limits, even if that's not true. And if they do buy the AP explanation, it will not reflect well on your daughter when they learn that she moved to a new school just to build up an already well-stocked AP arsenal. Transferring for just one year will also make it hard for your daughter to take on the leadership roles that many seniors hold and that most selective college admission officials expect.

My advice instead is to take a deep breath ... and maybe something stronger ... and stop worrying about this issue. Only push the AP Physics appeal if your daughter is truly gung-ho to tackle the tough class and not because you are convinced that her college future depends on it ... because it doesn't.

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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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