Questions about Advanced Placement

AP in Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Math
AP in Physics
Forfeiting AP Credit
AP Credit and State Medical Schools
What if a school won't accept AP credit?
Communicating with schools about AP credit
Advanced Chem Course to Supplement AP Credit

AP in Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Math

Question: Hello HPA, I’m a first-year who doesn’t fit into any of the plans in the handout you gave us. I have AP credit in biology, chemistry, physics, math, English, and some others. What should I be taking now?


In your first semester, we recommend choosing one lab-based course and then working on other requirements. For the rest of your Princeton career, to break it down, it'll look like this:

  • For Biology, take MOL 214 + one advanced (300- or 400-level) biology class with a lab 
  • For Chemistry, take Organic Chemistry, Biochemistry plus at least one advanced (300- or 400-level) chemistry class 
  • For Physics, take one additional physics class 
  • For Math, take a statistics class
  • For English, take Writing Seminar and an additional English/Literature course

For recommendations on which courses to take, see our Preparing Guide or the AP page. The courses recommended above will add up to 8 math/science courses. Add additional Biology (EEB/MOL/NEU), Chemistry, Math, and/or Physics courses to reach a minimum of 10-12 courses in math/sciences to demonstrate your overall ability in the kinds of course work that you'll take in medical school. You will need at least one letter of recommendation from someone who taught you in a science course, so keep this in mind as you choose your courses. Lastly, a basic rule of thumb: your AP credits “count” for all U.S. medical schools as long as they are supplemented by advanced coursework; when you look online, a few medical schools say that they do not accept AP, but what they mean by this with few exceptions is that they do not accept AP by itself, with no supplementary advanced coursework done in college

AP in Physics

Question: I know that students who have taken AP Chemistry in high school can place out of general chemistry at Princeton and go directly to Orgo, usually as a sophomore. What about AP Physics? If a student has taken the AP Physics exams and done well, can they simply not take Physics in college? Alternatively, would AP credit just allow a student to take an upper-level course? Thanks.

Answer: While some medical schools will accept the AP credit on its own, many will strongly recommend or require that you supplement any AP with advanced courses. If Princeton granted you 2 units of AP based on your scores on your AP or IB exams, then we strongly recommend that you take one semester that builds on your Physics foundation to satisfy medical schools’ requirements. You do not need to repeat introductory Physics by taking 101-102 or 103-104. Possible course selections for your one term of Physics include PHY 108 (Physics for the Life Sciences) AST 204 (Astronomy), CHM 305 (The Quantum World), or CHM 306 (Physical Chemistry). While some of these courses are not taught through the Physics Department, their content includes sufficient Physics. BSE students might not take courses that specifically list a Physics prerequisite; in this case, we recommend that they consult with BSE advisers to determine which of their courses build on introductory Physics in case medical schools question their preparation. Also, please note for those students with AP in Chemistry, you’re not done after taking Orgo and Biochem; we advise you to take a more advanced Chemistry course after Orgo and Biochem, just one term. 

Forfeiting AP Credit

Question:  Dear HPA: I am a first-year entering the University with AP credit in Chemistry, Biology, Physics, and Math.  I've read through your handout from orientation and I understand what classes you recommend but I'm worried that I won't do well if I take classes that are too difficult. To be honest, I want to make sure my grades are good for medical school, so I'm going to take CHM 201-202 now and PHY 101-102 next year even though I have AP in these subjects.  Is that OK?

Answer:  In most cases, it is not advisable.  We are so glad you asked this question!  When the University granted you AP credit, it was based on your high school qualifications. Medical schools would prefer that you do not retrace your steps and avoid the challenges of upper-level coursework.  You do not need to take on too much as a freshman, true, but over the course of the next four years we expect you to move forward and learn new material in Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Math.

In some instances, after consulting with the student, we may suggest repeating ONE introductory course in ONE subject where the student has AP credit.  If you're worried about preparing for the MCAT, remember that you will review the introductory material diligently in the months prior to the test, either on your own or through a prep course.  If you're worried about your knowledge of general chemistry as a prerequisite for organic chemistry, it is worthwhile to consult with Chemistry department representatives to review your preparation and make a measured decision. Remember that all AP credit granted to you will be listed on your Princeton transcript and you will report it to medical schools, even if you've gone back and done the introductory courses over again. 

AP Credit and State Medical Schools

Question: I am a California resident, and am interested in California medical schools. I received a 5 on the AP Physics exams and plan to take a year of Physical Chemistry. I was just wondering if I still had to take physics here.

Answer: We have, in the past, had students take CHM 306 as a supplementary course to the AP exam and had it accepted for medical schools that required advanced course work beyond the AP credit. 

Since many students ultimately attend a state medical school in their home state, we recommend that you ensure that you have met the requirements for your state schools. States (and schools) may differ in their stringency with AP credit. California schools were once notoriously stingy about allowing students to use their AP credit to bypass the traditional prerequisite courses, but they have started to follow suit with other schools that ask for competency in the sciences rather than specific course work (e.g., UCLA, UCSD). Policies do change from time to time, so be sure to be up to date with what their policies are in your application year, in case things change.

For schools outside of California, some will accept AP Physics, or will accept AP with one semester of advanced Physics course work. Again, it never hurts to check the prerequisites of schools that are of particular interest to you. We’re starting to keep a list of links that will take you directly to the prerequisites for medical schools that are popular among our students. You can find it on our website here

What if a School Won't Accept AP Credit?

Question: I’m hoping to enter med school and I’m worried about whether my AP credits are going to count for med school admissions. When I read the Harvard website, it seems like they won’t. Should I just take General Chemistry and EEB 211 even though I have AP for Chemistry and Biology?

Answer: If you read the Harvard Med School requirements carefully, you’ll see that they are willing to accept alternative ways of addressing their prerequisites. They say AP will not be accepted, but then go on to say that upper level courses should be taken if students have been granted AP credit. Further on in the page, you’ll see that they state that, “Required laboratory components of biology and chemistry are no longer defined as discretely as they were in the past. Lengthy laboratory components of the required science requirement courses are not necessarily time well and efficiently spent.” Instead, they encourage “hypothesis-driven exercises, problem solving, and hands-on demonstrations of important principles” which can be acquired through other means (such as thesis research in a science, or a summer research opportunity mentored by a faculty member.

We can tell you anecdotally that of Princeton applicants accepted to Harvard Med in the past, some had AP Gen Chem + Orgo + Biochem + advanced Chem; some had AP Gen Chem + CHM 215 + Orgo + Biochem, and the rest took the traditional Gen Chem sequence. Some had AP Biology and took MOL 214 and additional advanced Biology courses that didn’t have a lab component. Based on consultation with admissions personnel at HMS, we continue to recommend the combination of AP credit, Organic Chemistry, Biochemistry and an additional advanced Chemistry course moving forward for the Chemistry requirements. For Biology, we recommend AP Biology, MOL 214, and at least one additional MOL course, ideally combined with at least one summer research experience in which you can continue to refine your laboratory skills. However, if you’d like to be completely sure that you’ve met this requirement based solely on course work, we would recommend EEB 211 and MOL 214 if you are not a MOL or EEB major (MOL, EEB, and NEU majors will be taking departmental advanced lab and writing the thesis, and thus will be covered in terms of their laboratory experience). If there are other schools that you come across where you have concerns about your prereqs and APs, please don’t hesitate to email HPA, include the link to the website you’re referencing, and we’ll check into it for you. 

Communicating with Schools about AP Credit

Question: I’m preparing to apply to medical school and have AP credit in Biology, Physics and Chemistry and took extra classes in each one following HPA guidelines. I want to double check with schools that I have met their prerequisites. What’s the best way to do so?

Answer: If you follow the recommendations we outline in our HPA Preparing Guide, you'll be set for most schools. For the most up to date information on specific schools, check each school’s website for their prereqs and AP policies. We have many schools' prereqs pages linked from our website and they should be linked from the AAMC Medical School Admissions Requirements (a must-have investment for current applicants). If the policy is unclear from the website, email us and we can provide guidance from there, which may include contacting the school directly, or contact them directly if you’d prefer.

If you are contacting a school, we recommend that you be very specific: include the year in which you intend to matriculate at medical school, the exact number of units of AP credit you have been granted by Princeton in the subjects in questions, and the departments, course numbers, exact names of classes that you have taken to fulfill pre-requisites, indicating whether or not those classes have labs. It can also help to include the course descriptions from Course Offerings, the prerequisites required for classes you took, and the texts that you used. It would be helpful to us if you forward any response you receive from the medical school. If you don’t get a response, or the response is unclear, you are welcome to be in touch with us and we can follow up with schools on your behalf.

Advanced Chem Course to Supplement AP Credit

Question: Dear HPA, I have to take an advanced chemistry class to fulfill my premed pre-requisites. Now that Drug Discovery is no longer being offered, I am a little bit confused about what could count for this requirement. Do you have any suggestions? Can I use a CBE course to fulfill this requirement?

Answer: Medical schools are generally looking for students to build on the knowledge gained in the Advanced Placement course at the college level. The easiest way to provide evidence of this kind of building of knowledge is to take a course that lists Chemistry (Gen Chem or Orgo) as a prerequisite. Physical Chem (CHM 306); Global Air Pollution (CHM / CEE / GEO / ENE 311); and Geochemistry of the Human Environment (GEO 360 / ENV 356) are a few examples offered in Spring 2018.

If you’re interested in taking a course that doesn’t list Chemistry within its prereqs and want to know whether or not it will “count” for medical schools’ advanced chemistry requirement, our recommendation is to research a few schools of interest to see what they have to say about supplementing AP credit with additional course work. If a school requires additional course work, reach out to them directly to ask them – it’s always going to be up to the medical school to say whether or not you’ve met their requirements, so best to hear directly from them!

If you’re a CBE concentrator, it would be hard for us to imagine a school not feeling that you’d had course work to supplement your AP – much of what you do within your program of study hinges on Chemistry concepts. If you’re a non-CBE and thinking about taking one CBE course, it becomes less clear. When it comes to engineering courses “counting” as science, you are trying to assess whether (based on the syllabus, etc.) the course has more basic science content than engineering content (or at least *equal* amounts of each), since engineering isn't counted toward BCPM science courses. If you feel that the course is at least half chemistry, you can designate that course as chemistry on your medical school application. If the application service or an admissions officer has concerns, they will reach out to you and ask for justification/evidence that you identified your course correctly (i.e., that it is appropriate to call the course a chemistry course). Again, it’s worthwhile to reach out directly to schools to see what they would say – it can be a very case by case decision.