Questions about Advanced Placement

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


AP in Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Math

Question: Hey HPA, I’m a freshman 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?

Answer: To break it down:

  • For Biology, take MOL 214 + one upper-level biology class (ideally with a lab) 
  • For Chemistry, take Organic Chemistry, Biochemistry plus at least one upper-level chemistry class 
  • For Physics, take one upper-level physics class (suggestions for which one are noted in the "preparing" handout)
  • For Math, we would recommend a statistics class
  • For English, take WRI and an additional English/Literature course

This adds up to 8 math/science courses. Add additional science 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

Forfeiting AP Credit

Question:  Dear HPA: I am a freshman who is entering the University with a lot of AP credit.  I have 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 do 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 and forfeited your AP. 

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 be entering med school in 2016 and I’m really 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 the General Chemistry and EEB 211 courses even though I have AP for Chemistry and Biology?

Answer: If you read the Harvard Med School requirements carefully, you’ll see that instead of asking you for specific prerequisites, they are now asking you instead to be able to demonstrate knowledge of key concepts. In other words, they’re looking for a level of scientific competency that can be met in a number of ways.

For HMS specifically, they explain the kinds of information that they’d like you to gain fairly explicitly on their Course Requirements website. You’ll see that 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 this year’s Princeton applicants accepted to Harvard Med, one had AP Gen Chem + Orgo + Biochem + advanced Chem; two had AP Gen Chem + CHM 215 + Orgo + Biochem, and the rest took the traditional Gen Chem sequence. Four 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.