Are AP Exams the New Subject Tests?

Phoebe Keyes, Senior College Admission Advisor Feb 2021
 

When the College Board announced last month they would no longer offer Subject Tests, their press release included language encouraging students to submit AP Exams to colleges instead. This struck a nerve—with families, colleges, and college advisors alike. Historically, most colleges paid little—if any—attention to AP scores. (AP scores could be useful for testing out of college requirements freshman year, but this only mattered after a student was admitted; few admission offices asked for official exam results.)  

Will AP Exams take the place of Subject Tests?

It’s a little early to say definitively, but for now, our answer is “No.” The Subject Tests have been in their death throes for a while, and after MIT announced this year they would not consider Subject Tests—even if students submitted them—it seemed like it was only a matter of time until every school rendered them unnecessary. It seems unlikely colleges would decide another specialized college board test should take their place, especially since requiring or recommending AP exams would advantage some populations over others—which would be a bad look in a college landscape struggling to seem more equitable.

But what about Georgetown?

We joked at Empire Edge that Georgetown would be the first college to officially recommend AP exams. (For years, Georgetown has been the only college to recommend three—rather than the standard two—subject tests. They also resisted going test optional during the pandemic.) And, well, we were right. Georgetown announced Monday they would now recommend students submit AP scores in lieu of subject tests.

But Georgetown faced almost immediate pushback, and by Tuesday morning, they’d softened language on their website to merely state they would accept AP scores.

So, if your school does not offer AP classes or teach to the AP exam, even if Georgetown is your first choice, we do not recommend you make a mad dash to self-study for AP tests. After all, Georgetown’s announcement comes only weeks before the deadline to register for AP exams. It puts students in non-AP schools at an extraordinary disadvantage, and Georgetown has been made aware high schools are not happy about it. We do not expect juniors at non-AP schools to be penalized in the next admission cycle if they apply without APs.

At this point, we can’t promise the same for current sophomores and freshmen, but we don’t expect our stance will change. Regardless, we’ll keep you posted as colleges grapple with how their admission policies will adapt to changes in testing.

One thing to keep in mind, though: if you’re applying to highly selective schools—schools that once required or recommended subject tests—other aspects of your application will matter more than ever. Without those extra scores, colleges will pay more attention to the rigor and balance of your curriculum, extracurriculars, and—perhaps most importantly—your essays. Make sure you dedicate a portion of the time you would have spent studying for Subject Tests on your personal statement and supplements.


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