Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Despite rampant growth, Advanced Placement classes still impress college admissions officers

Thousands of high school students in Pinellas and Hills­borough counties bent over Advanced Placement tests this month, striving to earn college credit before they ever set foot on campus.

Advanced Placement courses, once reserved for a school's best and brightest, have gained broader popularity among schools and students not always known for their academic rigor. In Florida, the numbers of students taking the college-caliber classes has almost doubled in the last five years.

The phenomenon has produced an interesting side debate: Are students entering college with too much college credit under their belt?

Florida's schools largely say no. "Quite the opposite," said J. Robert Spatig, director of graduate admissions for the University of South Florida But nationwide, some colleges and universities are moving away from unlimited credit for the Advanced Placement courses.

"In the view of the faculty, it just feels a little out of control," said James M. Glaser, dean of undergraduate education at Tufts University, which recently began capping Advanced Placement credits at five.

Compare that to the University of Florida, where 98 percent of 2009's incoming freshmen completed an Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or Cambridge University's Advanced International Certification of Education. UF freshmen could claim as many as 45 college credits.

Glaser said the Tufts faculty recognizes that a student who takes Advanced Placement coursework shows a level of motivation that is attractive, but ultimately professors felt that the classes didn't always align with what would have been taught at Tufts.

Still, no one seems to doubt that Advanced Placement does a good job of preparing students for more rigorous coursework.

The College Board, creator of the Advanced Placement exam, boasts students who complete one of the courses are more likely to graduate from college within four years than those who don't.

"It's exciting to see more and more high-quality students take freshman classes every year," said Ed Gillis, executive director of admissions for the University of Miami, where overall applications are up 18 percent over last year. "It keeps the faculty very happy."

Figures show that just as high schools are administering more Advanced Placement courses and tests than ever, colleges are raking in more and more freshmen with course credit earned through the tests.

The University of Tampa in 2005 admitted 283 students with Advanced Placement credit. By last year, that number climbed 68 percent to 477. The story is similar at the University of South Florida, where in 2005, 29 percent of the freshmen brought credit with them. By last year, that was up to a whopping 46 percent — almost half of the freshman class.

"We still view it as a positive," said Dennis Nostrand, vice president for enrollment management at UT. "It's a sign that the students are stretching themselves to try to take more challenging courses."

The Ivy League also appears to remain impressed with the curriculum and the caliber Advanced Placement students.

"It is a curriculum we all know and understand and have respect for," said Jim Miller, Brown University's dean of admissions.

Florida admissions counselors told the St. Petersburg Times they are less interested in the exam scores than in the fact that students took the higher-level courses, in part because senior scores aren't available until months after students are admitted.

A national report released in February showed that Florida ranked No. 5 among states in the percentage of graduating seniors who scored a passing 3 or above on at least one Advanced Placement exam. But as more students took the tests, the state's overall passage rate was dropping.

Bill Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions at Harvard University, said that at his university, the scores provide a more important indicator of a students' academic caliber. And the school rewards only the highest scores.

At the University of Florida, a score of 3 out of 5 in art history could earn a student three college credits, while a score of 4 or 5 could bring six college credits.

But an incoming Harvard student must earn a score of 5 out of 5 to get any college credit at all. Even that only awards the student a half to one full credit, depending on the subject.

"The AP continues to be a very good predictor of how well students achieve at Harvard," Fitzsimmons said, adding that the growing ranks of students taking the classes doesn't alarm him. "Florida is known at Harvard as a place that does offer lots of IB and AP students, so we know those students are going to be well prepared."

Steve Orlando, a spokesman for the University of Florida, cautioned that while a student's penchant for taking more challenging classes can't hurt, it still doesn't guarantee admission. Advanced Placement hasn't lost its luster, but neither has class diversity — economic, athletic, ethnic and more.

"We're looking at the whole student, and what that student can bring to a campus," he said.

Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at (727) 893-8707 or

By the numbers

Advanced Placement exams


high school students in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties took an Advanced Placement exam this year


students in Florida took an Advanced Placement course in 2004


students in Florida took an Advanced Placement course in 2009.

Despite rampant growth, Advanced Placement classes still impress college admissions officers 05/22/10 [Last modified: Monday, May 24, 2010 11:32am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Mexicans dig through collapsed buildings as quake kills 225 (w/video)


    MEXICO CITY — Rescuers found a surviving child on Wednesday in the ruins of a school that collapsed in Mexico's magnitude 7.1 earthquake, one of many efforts across the city to try to save people trapped in debris under schools, homes and businesses toppled by the quake that killed at least 225 people.

    A man is rescued from a collapsed building in the Condesa neighborhood after an earthquake struck Mexico City, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017. The 7.1 earthquake stunned central Mexico, killing more than 100 people. [Associated Press]
  2. Construction starts on USF medical school, the first piece of Tampa's Water Street project


    TAMPA — Dozens of workers in hard hats and boots were busy at work at the corner of South Meridian Avenue and Channelside Drive Wednesday morning, signaling the start of construction on the University of South Florida's new Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute.

    A rendering shows what the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute will look like when completed in 2019. Local officials gathered Wednesday to celebrate as construction begins on the facility, the first piece of the Water Street redevelopment area in downtown Tampa. [Rendering courtesy of the USF Health]
  3. Flooded Withlacoochee River nears crest


    The flooded Withlacoochee River neared its projected crest Wednesday, with expectations that the floodwaters will begin to recede by the weekend.

    LUIS SANTANA   |   Times This aerial drone view shows flooding in the Talisman Estates neighborhood along the Withlacoochee River.
  4. Tampa Electric rules, Duke Energy drools, Hillsborough commissioners declare


    TAMPA — The pile on of Duke Energy continued Wednesday in Hillsborough County, where commissioners boasted how quickly most of their constituents had power after Hurricane Irma.

    Duke Energy workers cut tree limbs off a power line on Sept. 11 following Hurricane Irma.
  5. Whatever USF has to say about Temple waits till Thursday


    "The holes were wide open. Anyone could have run through them."

    South Florida Bulls cornerback Mazzi Wilkins (23) intercepts a pass during the second half of the home opener for the South Florida Bulls against the Stony Brook Seawolves at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017. LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times