AP Program Results: Class of 2021

The Growth of AP Over the Last 10 Years

Over the past 10 years, the percentage of U.S. public high school graduates who took an AP Exam during high school has increased, as has the percentage of U.S. public high school graduates who scored a 3 or higher on at least 1 AP Exam.

The growth in both participation and performance for students from all backgrounds reflects the hard work of students and teachers, as well as a commitment from states and districts, to provide students with greater access to academic opportunities.

  • Amid disruptions caused by the pandemic, 1,178,256 U.S. public high school graduates in the class of 2021 (34.9%) took at least 1 AP Exam, up from 898,134 (28.6%) in the class of 2011.
  • 758,842 U.S. public high school graduates in the class of 2021 (22.5%) scored a 3 or higher on at least 1 AP Exam, up from 539,341 (17.2%) in the class of 2011.

The Benefits of Taking AP

Students take AP courses in high school, in part, for the chance to earn college credit and placement from a score of 3 or higher on an AP Exam.

The latest data show the benefits of taking AP courses and exams, including for students who score a 1 or 2.

  • AP students from all backgrounds, including those with average scores of 1 or 2, are more likely to enroll in a four-year college compared to academically similar students who did not take AP.
  • Students who earn AP scores of 2 are well prepared to succeed in introductory college courses. Students who earned scores of 2 on AP Exams perform as well or better in introductory college courses, compared to academically similar college peers who did not take AP.
  • Many students who first score a 1 or 2 on an AP Exam take further AP courses and score higher.

Expanding Access and Opportunity

Over the past 10 years, access to AP has expanded for historically underrepresented students. Closing the equity gap in AP participation is essential to giving all students the chance to experience the benefits of challenging coursework.

Over the past 10 years, access to AP has expanded for historically underrepresented students. Closing the equity gap in AP participation is essential to giving all students the chance to experience the benefits of challenging coursework.

Many schools and districts have engaged in innovative practices to increase access to AP for underrepresented students. A review of progress shows that many states have connected students to AP and eliminated barriers that may restrict access of traditionally underrepresented groups.

As part of its Equity and Access Policy, AP strongly encourages schools to ensure that the demographics of AP classes reflect the overall demographics of the school. Ideally, the percentage of students scoring a 3 or higher on an AP Exam should match the proportion of the population for each demographic group in the school.

AP Computer Science Principles (AP CSP) exemplifies how underrepresented students are taking advantage of expanded access and opportunity. In 2016, the AP Program, with significant support from the National Science Foundation, launched AP CSP to address a well-documented shortage of women and people of color studying science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) in high school and college, and in STEM careers. This foundational course was designed to expand the invitation to computer science education and engage traditionally underrepresented students.

  • Over the last 5 years, AP CSP participation by underrepresented minorities has more than doubled.
  • Recent research shows that students who take AP CSP in high school are more than 3 times as likely to major in computer science in college, compared to similar students who did not take AP CSP. Differences are similarly large for female, Black, Hispanic, and first-generation college students.

State Support for AP Students

State funding plays a critical role in expanding AP opportunities for students. In 2021, a total of 31 states and the District of Columbia recognized the importance of providing AP access to students by providing the financial support they needed to take AP Exams and potentially earn college credit.

In prior years, funding has also helped to narrow equity gaps in states that reduce exam fees for low-income students.

AP Credit Policies

Most four-year colleges and universities in the United States—as well as many institutions in more than 100 other countries—grant credit, placement, or both for qualifying AP Exam scores. This means students can save time and money and get a head start on their education when they enter college with credit they earned through AP. And research has shown that students who earn credit, advanced placement, or both for their AP Exam scores tend to earn more credits overall, particularly in the subject area in which they took the exam.

A record number of state higher education systems have adopted uniform policies on AP credit. Over the past six years, adoption of statewide credit policies has more than doubled.

As of fall 2021, 32 states have implemented statewide or systemwide AP credit policies, which typically require all public higher education institutions to award credit for AP Exam scores of 3 or higher. AP policies that grant credit for scores of 3 have grown 16% since 2015, and the number of policies for credit overall has grown 12%, with both trends largely attributable to state and system policies.

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