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Glasscock School of Continuing Studies

AP and College Readiness

CampusThe AP program is the national standard for academic rigor and college readiness, providing high school students with the opportunity to take college-level courses in a high school setting. AP courses provide the level of rigor that best prepares students for post-secondary success.

Research demonstrating that AP courses increase students’ college readiness and completion is incontrovertible. The success of the AP program is due, in part, to the academic rigor of Pre-AP and AP courses. Experimental research studies have proven that participation in the AP program is significantly correlated with college readiness.

AP and College Outcomes

There is strong evidence that participation in AP strongly correlate with student achievement, college readiness and college completion. The peer-reviewed research connecting AP participation to positive college outcomes has been conducted by non-profits, institutions of higher education and the federal government. These organizations include Educational Testing Service, The College Board, the University of Texas and the U.S. Department of Education. 

Aligning high school standards to college expectations is a critical step toward giving students a solid foundation in the academics needed for success in post-secondary education and ultimately, in the global workforce. AP courses are an excellent avenue by which schools can increase the rigor of their curriculum and better prepare their graduates for college. The results from a recent study from the College Board suggested that taking an AP exam after completing the course better prepares students for the more rigorous demands of college-level work. These results support the efficacy of the AP program and underscore the utility of participation in the AP Program as a way for students to better prepare themselves for higher education (Mattern, Shaw and Xiong 2009). Moreover, students who are adequately prepared for post-secondary education are less likely to require remedial classes in college, a key indicator for college success. Although approximately 45 percent of all students who enroll in post-secondary education will ultimately earn a bachelor’s degree, only 17 to 39 percent of students who take remedial courses will successfully earn that degree, depending on the number and type of remedial courses taken. Among students who take no remedial courses, 58 percent will earn a bachelor’s degree (College Board 2004).

According to the largest-ever study of the effects of AP on college success, University of Texas researchers found that students who take AP courses in high school are more likely to graduate from college within four years and have higher grade point averages in college than similar students who did not take AP courses. Hargrove and Dodd (2007) found that students who successfully participated in one or more AP exams and courses significantly out-performed their non-AP peers. These comparisons were made among peers with similar levels of academic ability and family economic status. Students who took one or more AP courses and exams had higher college GPAs, earned more credit hours and were more likely to graduate in 4 years or less. The findings indicate that even AP students who took the course and scored two out of a possible five points on an AP exam will still tend to do better in college than a student who did not take AP courses or who skipped the AP exam (Hargrove and Dodd, 2007).

Additionally, data suggests that AP exam scores of 3 or better are strongly predictive of a higher rate of college graduation. A study by Dougherty, Mellor and Jian (2005) assessed college-graduation rate differences between matched AP and non-AP students and found that AP students were significantly more likely to graduate from college than their matched non-AP peers. These results indicated that African-Americans scoring a three or higher on the AP exam as opposed to the non-AP student were 21 percent more likely to graduate from college, Hispanics were 27 percent more likely, whites were 19 percent more likely, and low-income students were 32 percent more likely.

It is without question that AP courses are rigorous, college-level classes that prepare students for their post-secondary education. The AP Program provides high school students with the opportunity to take college-level courses in a high school setting. Effective teachers are critical to helping all students meet rigorous high school course work and standards. Excellent teachers have high-level skills and knowledge in the subjects they teach and are trained in helping low-performing students succeed. Through a comprehensive plan to increase the content knowledge and pedagogical skills of teachers, schools will increase the level of rigor in their curriculum and better prepare students for post-secondary curriculum.

2013 AP Report to the Nation

The 10th Annual AP Report to the Nation uses a combination of state, national and AP Program data to provide each U.S. state with the context it can use to celebrate its successes, understand its unique challenges, and set meaningful, data-driven goals to prepare more students for success in college.

AP Student Success at the College Level, College Board

This publication summarizes five key findings of recent AP efficacy research, linking AP enrollments to high college performance, timely completion and other positive trends. Links to in-depth discussions of each finding can be found on their respective pages.

Finding 1: “AP Students perform well in subsequent college courses in the discipline.”

One of the main draws to the AP program is the possibility that students may place out of introductory courses during the college career, jumping directly into intermediate coursework. Morgan and Klaric (2007) conducted research of 70,000 students at 27 institutions to determine how students who did well in their pre-college AP coursework compared to non-AP students in intermediate college coursework. Ultimately, they determined that AP students performed at comparable, if not superior, levels. In the same study, researchers found that AP students generally score higher on their SAT exams and graduate college earlier than their peers.

Finding 2: “AP Students are more likely to major in their AP subject or a related discipline, particularly in the STEM subjects.”

Often the AP program allows students the opportunity to engage in a discipline of great interest, setting the groundwork for future academic interests and focuses. Mattern, Shaw and Ewing (2011) set out to just how common this occurs by examining the likelihood that third-year college students settled into a major related to their previous AP coursework. They conclude that in choosing college majors, research shows that AP students are indeed greatly influenced by their exposure to various disciplines in the AP program.

Finding 3: “AP students take more – not less – college course work in the discipline.”

In comparing AP students to non-AP students and students in dual-enrollment programs, Murphy and Dood (2011) found that AP students were likely to take more course hours than peers of the other student groups. Further findings also show that despite these AP students having heavier loads, they consistently received high scores in college coursework when compared to their peers.

Finding 4: “ AP students are more likely to graduate within four years.”

The exposure of rigorous academic settings by the AP program proves beneficial in preparing high school students for similar situations in college and university. Mattern, et al (2013) suggest that the high correlations between on-time college graduation and former AP students is directly related to the unique learning environments AP students experience prior to entering university.

Finding 5: “AP provides opportunities for underserved students to succeed.”

In examining the impact of the AP program on various demographics, a study by Dougherty et al (2006) found that underrepresented and low income AP students were three and four times more likely to graduate from high school than non-AP students, respectively. This trend continued through college with underrepresented and low income AP student 28% more likely to graduate within five years.


Dougherty, C., Mellor, L., Jian, S. (2006). The Relationship Between Advanced Placement and College Graduation.

Mattern, K. Marini, J., Shaw, E. (2013). Are AP Students More Likely to Graduate from College on Time?

Mattern, K., Shaw,  E., Ewing, M. (2011) Is the AP Exam Participation and Performance Related to Choice of College Major?

Morgan, R., Klaric, J. (2007). AP Students in College: An Analysis of Five-Year Academic Careers.

Murphy, D., Dood, B. (2009). A Comparison of College Performance of Matched AP and Non-AP Student Groups.