AP Scores: From The Inside Looking Out

In an earlier post I discussed AP Art History and AP Studio Art courses from the student perspective; whether or not you should take them, and what you get out of them.  Since that writing I’ve had the chance to research and talk with several art and design program admissions counselors to get their perspectives on the value of APs.  What I’ve found are parallel yet varied viewpoints.  Each school sets its own value on AP courses and each has a nuanced reason for that applied value.

Those who accept AP course credits equate them to courses taken at another college; they’re categorized as transfer credits.  Each AP course taken translates into 3 – 5 credit hours (depending upon the institution) that you’ve already completed.  Depending upon the type of AP you take – studio or academic – you’ll need fewer credits in that area of study in college.

MICA

MICA

Each school has a maximum number of transfer credits allowed per student.  Most likely you won’t hit that limit. Take Maryland Institute College of Art for example.  For academic AP courses with a score of four or five, they’ll accept a maximum of nine transfer credits.  That’s equivalent to three academic electives.  AP Studio scores also need to be a four or five, and are only accepted for art electives.  The difference is there isn’t a limit on the quantity of AP Studio credits that are accepted.  From talking with Taryn Wolf, MICA Director of Admission, I learned that applicants often take different AP Studio courses multiple years in a row.  The benefit of taking all those studio courses?  Well, besides fine-tuning your craft, they’ll help you create a portfolio theme.  And as Taryn explained further, “our higher scholarship winners have a cohesive work portfolio, usually with a theme, idea or style running through their work.” AP Studio courses provide the chance to develop your consistent theme or style.  The opportunity to win a scholarship is an added bonus; reducing the cost of your college tuition.

Ringling College of Art + Design

Ringling College of Art + Design

I haven’t found any schools that will accept AP Studio coursework in place of Foundation classes.  At Ringling College of Art & Design students are required to take all their studio courses on campus as well.  Eric Kaster, Assistant Dean of Admissions, likes the focus and discipline students acquire from taking AP Studio courses.  “However,” he adds, “ours is a very structured and stair step curriculum, and students who become exempt from studio classes often are missing critical learning practices necessary to their success at Ringling.”  AP academic courses with a score of four or higher in English Language/Composition and English Literature/Composition are accepted for academic course replacement.  All other academic AP courses are accepted with a score of three or higher.

Columbus College of Art & Design

Columbus College of Art & Design

Columbus College of Art & Design requires an AP Studio test score of five to be considered for elective credit, and a three or higher for academic courses.  Admissions Counselor Mike Bonardi explains how the credits are applied.  “Within studio art AP credit is transferred to required electives and not directly to a particular class.  Academic AP credit is transferred over directly to a required course where applicable. Otherwise [the student] will be awarded three academic elective credits.”  Again, when it comes to AP Studio the emphasis is placed on the value received from taking the course.  “Even if they have not met the score requirement it gives them a leg up with portfolio requirements,” added Freshman Admissions Officer Thom Glick.

Last week I profiled California Institute of the ArtsCalifornia Institute of the Arts.  CalArts is a very different school.  It attracts students who – almost exclusively – want a future built more around the theory, definitions and relationships of art rather than its technical applications.  According to Admissions Counselor Brian Gershey, they are “more interested in the creative content of work done in an AP Studio course” and less interested in final AP scores, giving the student’s portfolio and its accompanying statement the most importance.  That doesn’t preclude students from obtaining credit for top AP Studio scores, but it speaks to the emphasis placed on them in admission decisions.

From my findings, those on the inside looking out believe AP courses are worthwhile.  The many benefits include gained knowledge, skills and focus while still in high school.  To an admissions counselor that translates into a mature student, ready for the challenges and opportunities college will bring.  Add to that the potential financial benefits that accompany AP work and it seems like an easy choice to me.

To AP or not to AP?

That is the question for many high school art students.

AP Studio Art and AP Art History are available on many high school campuses.  So, should you sign up for them?  The short answer is: yes!  But let’s get to why.  For those serious about attending an art and design program, Advanced Placement (AP) courses are college level classes – backed by the College Board  – which you can take while still in high school.  At the end of the year students are required to submit a portfolio to the AP review board (Studio Art) or take an AP exam (Art History).

Moored, by CCAD alum Bev Darwin; http://bevdarwinstudios.blogspot.com/

Moored, by CCAD alum Bev Darwin; http://bevdarwinstudios.blogspot.com/

AP Studio Art students create a high quality, college-level portfolio which can then be used as part of a college application.  This challenging and rigorous course is available in three formats; drawing, two-dimension (2-D) and three-dimension (3-D).  It offers advanced art students the opportunity to focus on one medium or area during an entire school year.  Each completed portfolio is required to address three sections; quality, concentration and breadth.  The AP review board is looking for proficiency, an area of focus and exploration, and the extent of your understanding of artistic principles like composition, contrast and balance.  Drawing and 2-D design portfolios require actual artwork submitted as part of the AP exam; the 3-D format only accepts digital images of created work.

AP Art History leads to an understanding of the purpose art plays in society, an appreciation for the process of creating and displaying art, and the ability to analyze it.  The path you’ll take to understanding includes study of an enormous range of art and artifacts.  You’ll analyze early Pre-Columbian, Greek and Roman Art, learn to discern the differences between Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque Art, study cultural and religious influences of Asian and Indian art, and observe the changing art styles and subject matter of the 20th – 21st centuries.  Course resources include Gardner’s Art Through the Ages, Janson’s History of Art, Barnet’s A Short Guide to Writing About Art, and many more.  (Believe it or not I still have my copies Janson and Gardner.)  You’ll finish the course with a broad understanding of art throughout the ages.  It will truly open your eyes!

Taking both courses clearly shows that you’re ready to learn at an advanced level.  It confirms your commitment to art and your willingness to push yourself by taking some of the most challenging high school courses available.  Additional benefits include the possibility of skipping equivalent-level college classes, substituting foundations or electives, or even graduating early.  The latter might make mom and dad happiest since graduating early means less money spent on college.

AP courses require planning.  With the goal of creating a stellar portfolio you’ll want to enroll in as many studio classes as possible before you sign up for AP Studio Art.  Your high school should have plenty, but don’t overlook other opportunities.  Portfolio submissions may include work done over a year or longer, in or outside of class. Translation: take local community art courses as well as those available during the summer at a local art school; your work can count towards your portfolio.

A potential downside to consider is that many colleges don’t accept AP credits.  So, while you’re planning ahead, do some research into who accepts them and who doesn’t.  That way you won’t get your heart broken after you’ve fallen in love with a school.

Lastly, if your high school doesn’t offer AP courses, don’t worry.  Online opportunities exist.  Start your research on the College Board site.  Your high school art teachers should be great resources as well.

I won’t be putting up my regular posts during the next couple of weeks due to the holiday season, but check back at the beginning of January, I’m hoping to continue this conversation and include insights from college admission counselors.