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Articles / Applying to College / School Rule Punishes Student for AP Self-Study
Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | Oct. 28, 2015

School Rule Punishes Student for AP Self-Study

Question: Our high school just implemented a policy regarding AP Calculus exams.  If a sophomore takes the exam without taking the AP class, he will not be allowed in any math class during his junior year.  The Asst Principal says this can be a problem since elite colleges look for 4 years of math.

The AP website says it doesn’t require a student to take an AP class before taking the AP exam.  Seems like if a student thinks he has it, and wants to attempt the exam, the school should be encouraging him rather than penalizing him. Have you heard of a similar policy at another school?  Is there a way around it?  Thanks.

While “The Dean” hasn’t specifically gotten wind of other high schools that prohibit students from continuing in math after taking the AP Calculus exam, this policy may indeed be in place elsewhere because many schools simply don’t offer classes that are appropriate for a student who has already successfully completed AP Calculus … whether it’s through an actual class or via independent study.  You don’t report, however, whether your son will be taking the AP Calculus AB or BC test. You also say that a student cannot continue in math “during his junior year.” Does this mean that he can take additional math as a senior or does it mean that he can’t continue in math at the high school at all?  It would be helpful for The Dean to have answers to these questions, but I’ll wing it the best I can without them.


If your son will take the Calculus AB exam this spring, then he should be permitted to take a Calc BC class in 11th grade, if it’s offered at his school. It seems silly for a school rule to prevent this. You also don’t mention whether AP Statistics is offered. While some folks view Stats as a poor relation to calculus, many others (The Dean included) maintain that Stats is a completely separate and valuable field. So it certainly seems dumb to ban a student from AP Stats just because he’s completed an AP Calculus exam. Thus, if Calc BC or AP Stats are available at your son’s school (and your son hasn’t taken either yet), it’s time for you to face off with the school board, and you can probably find other families to join you.

But if your fight against City Hall is a losing one (as conventional wisdom suggests that it may be), your son will still have choices. He can take college-level math classes over the summer or possibly during the school year (probably at night or on weekends, depending on the flexibility of his schedule). Many high schools participate in “dual enrollment” programs which facilitate matriculation in challenging classes at local two-year and even four-year colleges.

These days there are countless opportunities for an advanced math student to accelerate, and even the most hyper-competitive colleges will recognize rigorous online, dual-enrollment, and summer courses as legitimate alternatives to the Usual-Suspect high school offerings. Moreover, if your son is able to elect math classes that take him beyond Calculus BC, it will help his application to stand out in a crowd at college-admission time and could actually improve his admission odds rather than diminish them, even if you feel restricted–and annoyed—by the new policy at the local high school.

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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