Top of the Class

#13 Why APs Matter More Than Ever

July 02, 2021 Crimson Education Season 2 Episode 13
Top of the Class
#13 Why APs Matter More Than Ever
Show Notes Transcript

In the last year, the Advanced Placement (AP) curriculum has taken on greater importance for students from around the world who are aiming to apply to top colleges.

Podcast co-host, Jamie, runs through exactly why APs have become such an important part of the US college application, what students can expect from the curriculum, how hard some of the subjects are and he shares some case studies of recent Harvard and Stanford admits.

Podcast Host  00:00

Hey, Jamie, welcome to another episode of College Tips, always great to be joined by my very knowledgeable co host. We're here to chat primarily about APs or Advanced Placement. Now, if you're listening from Australia or anywhere else around the world, they might not be overly familiar with APs, am I right in saying that?

Jamie Beaton  01:20

So the folks who made the SAT, the College Board, also make the AP, which stands for the Advanced Placement. And this is primarily popular in the US, but it's really spread to China, Korea, even the UK, and now through Crimson Global Academy, we're seeing kids all over the world taking the AP exam. So what this basically is, is it's a way of showing what's called college readiness, that you’re prepared to thrive at university. And there's a range of subjects from things like basic calculus, all the way to things like psychology, statistics, US history, and other great subjects. And these exams are out of five. Generally, a four or five is considered to be a good score and exams are offered each May. And they play a big role in boosting your odds of getting into these top schools. And actually, when I was at Harvard, I was able to skip a year of my degree using what's called advanced standing. And you can use the APs to do just that. But it's basically become a very popular tool and academic qualification for ambitious high schoolers all over the world in the last 12-18 months in particular.

Podcast Host  02:33

So why have the APs taken on more significance in the last 12 months?

Jamie Beaton  02:52

There's really two drivers of this. The first is the general kind of competition that is unfolding. So with each passing year, the bar is getting a bit higher. So students are taking a few more subjects and they're starting a bit earlier. And that is particularly magnified at the top schools where there's been more and more international students taking a significant number of subjects. So competition is one factor, but that's more like a gradual, incremental phenomenon. But the second factor is recently the SAT Subject Tests got binned. And they were designed to be able to showcase the schools your ability. With those being removed, applicants need an alternative way of signaling their ability in certain subjects. And so the APs have really been a great way of filling that void, alongside other things like the rigorous British A-Levels. The other kind of functional thing is unlike the IB Diploma, which takes two years and is highly structured. The APs can be sat from a pretty young age, they're offered every May and so I see lots of students taking them over three or four years, as opposed to all in one year. And that flexibility is quite attractive. The third thing is that there's been this growing trend towards computer science and towards the technology industry. And this is a sector that's kind of underserved by traditional high schools so things like AP Computer Science have become popular extra choices by ambitious kids to level up on a critical skill.

Podcast Host  04:39

And just for students trying to get a grasp of how difficult the APs might be, what’s it like relative to other curriculums?

Jamie Beaton  04:57

So the AP varies significantly based on the subjects you choose. So for example, AP Psychology, AP Statistics are pretty easy to be honest. Subjects like AP BC Calculus, or even AP Physics, they are very challenging. So on a spectrum, AP BC Calculus, or some of the AP Physics kind of exams are really equivalent higher level, IB, or A-Levels and the associated subjects and that difficult, rigorous AP BC calculus is probably harder than A-Level math. But on the flip side, subjects, like A-Level psychology are very doable and lots of students can begin these at a pretty young age like 13, 14, 15, if they wish to. So I think there is a bit of a spectrum of challenge there.

Podcast Host  05:49

But if a student is doing advanced maths at school, I'm assuming that a lot of what they've already learned at school could then be pretty readily applied to some of the math subjects in the AP curriculum, so they wouldn't necessarily be starting from scratch. Right?

Jamie Beaton  06:17

That's right. So how students engage with us is that they've been at traditional high schools in Australia or New Zealand or other countries and then they come along to us at our Crimson Global Academy and they can take these extra APs and they've learned some of the content from their existing school system. So we help them get through the additional content, help them learn with like minded peers, talented teachers, then prepare them to sit the exam and get the AP result. So this is very much something which builds on the strengths that you've already established in high school. In some cases, students will begin a brand new subjects. So they might take for example, AP Microeconomics or AP Macroeconomics, and students may have never done any economics beforehand. But of course, something like, AP BC Calculus builds on the math foundation students have been growing for several years.

Podcast Host  07:02

I was actually just talking to Eunice who got into Harvard and had done quite a few APs. And she had made the decision that in some instances where she got a four, instead of a five, she didn't actually report it to the university. And so on the admissions side of things, if you get a four, is it optional to let the universities know?

Jamie Beaton  07:30

So the rules kind of vary from school to school, some schools do require you to report all grades, others are more flexible but it does vary. And it's important to check because some of the schools can be strict about this criteria. So you wouldn't want to not report something when you had to for a certain school, that can put you in a bit of trouble. And as far as what you just mentioned, it’s broadly correct, that you basically want to be shooting for fives in the AP. And a five is not 100%. A five is just enough of the exam, correct that they give you a five, so a significant portion of students do land fives in their APs. And I often see kids resitting a four. And definitely you don't want to have any ones, twos or threes. It's quite hard to score one, two or three, if you do your homework. 

Podcast Host  08:19

Okay, so let's talk about some case studies. What is like a rough estimate of AP courses that a student might sit to help them stand out from the crowd?

Jamie Beaton  08:49

It's a good question. So it varies based on the rigor of the local curriculum you're taking, and the kind of competitive market for which you're applying from to these schools. So one of my students got into Harvard from Shanghai. Now, this is non trivial, because Shanghai and China are probably the most competitive regions to apply for the US from. So the student was able to get into Harvard and he was a very talented STEM student. Over the course of three years, he took 17 AP exams, scoring fives in all of them. So early on with Crimson, we decided together that he was shooting for top schools and he had some serious academic potential. And we wanted to really turbocharge that and make sure he was pursuing a pretty aggressive exam schedule to really highlight to the schools the very diverse academic skills he had built across a wide range of subjects. So that's where the goal of 17 came from. So he ended up taking APs in history of art, biology, calculus, chemistry, computer science, English language, French language, macroeconomics, microeconomics, music theory, physics C electricity, physics C mechanics, psychology, stats and US history. Now on the flip side, we regularly help students get into schools with four APs. I can think of one of my students now at Stanford who did four APs And she I think got a four for one of them, actually. So, there's a spectrum, if you're applying into doing something like the A-Levels or the IB, and you're in a foreign country, even doing two or three, or even one additional subject, like taking AP Computer Science with us, alongside your traditional school is a fantastic opportunity that a lot of students are doing at Crimson Global Academy. So I'd say one to 17, that's probably the range that you can go for. And I see the top two applicants often having 10, 11, 12 APs. But again, it varies like if your local curriculum is weak, you need more, if your local curriculum is like the IB or something, which is pretty rigorous, then you don't need as many. And you don't need to necessarily double up on your subjects. Another one of my students has gone to Stanford from New Zealand, he had eight A-Levels, and I think he had four AP subjects. He kind of combined both.

Podcast Host  11:07

You mentioned ranges in terms of the number of subjects but also you've been mentioning a couple of ages where students might look at some of these APs, the younger the better, I guess, but you would try and avoid doing APs in your final year of high school, is that correct?

Jamie Beaton  11:29

You can definitely do it. I mean, lots of students do it in the last year, the problem is just depending on which hemisphere, and if you're in the Northern Hemisphere, sometimes you don't get the exam results back by the time you apply. So you just have predicted grades, which are fine, but it’s much better to have actually achieved the AP. So a lot of the reason people push hard to get a lot of APs done in the first several years is that you actually have the results, you can show them to the schools, there's no speculation and so, the senior APs tend to get discounted more than the APs in that last year. In a place like say, New Zealand or Australia, you could definitely still take APs in your year 12 or 13 because you're not applying until November, so you can sit them in May and have your results back already. That's totally chill. So I think it does vary a bit. So southern hemisphere, I'd say you can do them all the way in your last year, northern hemisphere, you still can but you're not going to get as much credit if you book them early and already achieved your grades.

Podcast Host  12:18

Right. And how many students do you think would be doing extra subjects on top of their local curriculum and SAT or ACT?

Jamie Beaton  12:41

Well, let me say this, because, obviously, I see like a cross section of very ambitious students that are really opting into a pretty high octane path. And the ones working with me, in particular, tend to be pushing hard. But I think in general, I would say over 300 plus admitted students to the Ivy League, of them, probably more than 200 would have either done an international curriculum, like AP, A-Levels or IB or they would have combined their local curriculum with some of these extra subjects to kind of really strengthen their profile. So I would say it’s generally a pretty good idea. There's just not many ways for you to differentiate academically, within just one curriculum alone if you don't take one of these modular curriculums like A-Levels or AP early and build up a lot of subjects, and some people are running an A-Level strategy or AP strategy but a lot of them are tending towards these for those top schools, of course, the bar is lower for other types of universities, but through the lens of these top schools, it's pretty common.

Podcast Host  13:35

Yeah. And now if we're looking at how to learn APs, obviously, we're here and in part because CGA the Crimson global Academy is offering APs as well. Can you talk through some of the options that students have to learn APs through Crimson?

Jamie Beaton  13:50

There’s kind of two ways to do this for students. So the first is we provide one-on-one tutoring, we've got 1000s of mentors that come from places like Harvard, Stanford, MIT, Yale, etc. Crimson is really the only education company globally that has that talent there at these top schools, because many of our team have been to these places. And we've got a really strong brand on campus. So we were able to recruit many of these students who have just nailed many AP subjects, A-Levels, they can tutor you online very effectively through one on one or you can pursue the Crimson Global Academy, you can join our school, part time or full time if you go full time you can even get a full US high school diploma or part time you can just take the extra APs with us in a small group class. So two different ways for you to learn your APs. But CGA is definitely becoming very popular for students around the world.

Podcast Host  14:36

We look forward to having a couple of the teachers on the show as well to talk about how to nail the different AP exams that they specialize in. But any other final thoughts on taking the AP and supplementing an application to top universities with bolstered academic rigor?

Jamie Beaton  15:02

Just that you want to start early, because basically, if you begin early, you just have more years to get through more subjects. So if I say 17 APs, it sounds a bit nuts, but that's if you do it one year, it probably would be nuts. But if you do it over three years, and you're thinking about say six a year, then suddenly it becomes a lot more reasonable and over four years, even more reasonable. So really come chat to us, we can definitely support and figure out what subjects you can handle, we give you a lot of different diagnostics, see what academic ability you currently are at, and how we get you rolling down that path. But you do want to begin early, so you're not trying to chase many subjects during those final phases where you should be thinking about things like application essays etc. So this is definitely something where beginning early has significant competitive advantage. And , the good thing is, it really helps you in your future as well. Because these subjects like computer science, calculus, they're gonna build engineering skills which will really help you within your job market pursuits as well. And computer science, for example, is the second most popular career path for Crimson alumni right now with students going to work at companies like Google, Facebook, DeepMind, Uber, and many other awesome organizations. So do think about this pretty seriously both from a candidacy perspective, but also for preparing for a competitive job market where you can really thrive.