As the AP season approaches, February is a great time to start studying for any AP tests that are upcoming this May, as well as a great time to plan for the next school year’s AP courses. The question of “which AP is right for me?” (regarding either the tests or future classes) is contingent upon the students’ major and college interests, but of course, this is also in context to how a school district organizes their school’s AP course roster and/or prerequisite requirements.
While this article will be mainly examining a Pre-Med interest AP track in the greater Santa Clarita Valley region, the planning process behind each “track” can be applied to the different school districts and major interests as well.
Many of us already know of the benefit of taking multiple AP courses: it allows for colleges to see the rigor of a college applicant’s coursework. Moreover, the extra GPA point boost in taking an AP course often corresponds with the students’ cumulative GPA and academic class ranking for their college applications; keep in mind, AP courses always count towards an extra GPA point, while certain freshman and sophomore Honors classes don’t add the extra GPA point -- like Honors Geometry or Honors English 9 -- in the final GPA calculation for the UC schools (https://hs-articulation.ucop.edu/agcourselist → search school and see which courses count toward the extra GPA point in UC GPA calculation). Still, the extra GPA point shouldn’t be the sole motive of choosing a course. For the college admission officers, because grades are relative per school (based on grade inflation or deflation), the AP Test is the important marker for measuring a student’s mastery over a subject.
As a student interested in Pre-Med or STEM, the benefits of the William S. Hart District is that it opens up the option to complete AP Bio and AP Chemistry (with the exception of Golden Valley and Canyon HS) by the student’s Sophomore year. Other districts might often require an Honors Level prerequisite class, but the Hart District doesn’t have Honors so it jumps directly into AP. By the student’s Junior year, students will hopefully think about how either AP Biology or AP Chem have inspired their academic interests in specific topics, such as, the growing biomedical nanotechnology and immunotherapy for cancerous cells to the conversion of biopolymers for furthering sustainable practices in replacing petroleum output. The benefit of taking these AP STEM courses early is how the courses start a conversation for further research, internships, summer programs, and an understanding of societal needs and relevant issues, during the students’ Junior or Senior year.
Of course, before that, students will hopefully do well on the AP Exam. According to the May 2019 AP Score Distributions, AP Biology had a mean score of 2.92, 7.2% of students received 5s, and about 64.7% of students received a 3 or a higher; AP Chemistry had a mean score of 2.73, 11.5% received 5s, and about 55.6% of students received a 3 or a higher. These statistics set AP Bio and AP Chem as one of the more difficult AP exams (from the AP courses and exams available), and again for this reason, I highly encourage students to start studying for their AP exams now or set aside 3 months time prepping. Once again, since by the student’s Junior year most of the advanced level science courses will be completed, for Pre-Med interested students especially, these earlier AP exams are imperative for paving the way to future resume-building activities as well as quantitatively remain competitive applicants for their respective majors, as most likely a Biology, Chemistry, Biochemistry or any other majors for the general Pre-Med track during their undergraduate.
As STEM or Pre-Med interest, AP history courses aren’t necessarily required, but for the reasons mentioned above, it would still be ideal to go for all available APs offered at the high school. Yet, if History isn’t the student’s strongest area, then consider taking US History at SCV’s community college, College of the Canyons. By a students’ junior year, they are eligible to take courses at COC and transfer the credits into their HS transcript, and also for an extra GPA point. The community college courses are generally less intensive than a full year of AP and may be the compromise between taking a regular course or an AP course.
Last but not least, students interested in Pre-Med and/or STEM should be taking the SAT Subject Tests immediately after their respective science AP exams. Though most schools don’t require SAT Subject tests, certain engineering majors or programs will later require one SAT Subject Science and one Math test. Generally the best time to take these tests are after a student studies the subject all year long throughout their AP course. After the May AP exam, students should aim to take the June SAT Subject exam(s). Subject tests are also a great way to alleviate a poor AP score(s) received in the past. Though the AP exams carry more weight, the SAT Subject test may offer a “second-chance” for the Junior or Seniors looking to do better in case they have not passed either AP Bio or Chemistry and are applying as Pre-Med.
While this article mainly focused on Pre-Med interested students in the greater Santa Clarita Valley, the factors to consider when planning your own coursework and extracurricular activities are no different for another major interest.
1) See which AP courses are offered and when they are offered in your High School; start looking for which courses align with your major interests. For example, if you are a Political Science Major interest, then plan for AP Human Geo, AP World or Euro and AP US History.
2) Build up your activities during the seasons when you are not too busy with your AP studies or school work. For example, at least for aspiring political science majors, since the more rigorous AP World and AP USH courses aren’t until later in Junior and Senior, plan to join Speech and Debate starting Freshman or Sophomore year; learn how to research and use it as an opportunity to learn more about current events and issues. Or even look for government internships or summer programs.
3) Consider how you can utilize your local community college and the courses offered to take instead of the regular courses in your high school.
4) Check the CollegeBoard’s full listing for AP courses -- even if they don’t have a subject you are interested in offered in your HS, you can still prep on your own and take the AP exam apart from taking the course!