Every year during high school, around advanced placement exam season, Catherine Ferrante, BC ’21, wrestled with the same dilemma—budgeting out which Advanced Placement exams she could afford to take. The availability of AP courses at her high school was not an issue, but the cost of AP exams placed a financial strain on her family.
Ferrante eventually saved enough from her job to take the exams and entered Barnard with 12 elective credits—more than some students, but not enough to substantially lessen her workload. Since arriving at Barnard, Ferrante said she has balanced 17 credits a semester, along with extracurriculars and a work-study job. She worries that she will not have the opportunity to study abroad, commit to multiple extracurriculars, or take classes unrelated to her major. She is concerned that she may not even graduate in four years.“A lot of other people have that wiggle room and they don’t have to plan their schedule so rigidly,” she said. “I’m scared that I will not be able to complete my major, so I’m taking two or three [classes for my major] each semester, so it’s just a lot of pressure.”
Effective for the class of 2020 and beyond, Barnard’s Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate credit policy does not permit exemptions from general education requirements, but does allow students to receive up to 30 elective credits for their exam scores—equivalent to nearly two semesters worth of classes, based on the college’s recommendation that students take an average of 15.25 credits a semester.
By contrast, Columbia College students can earn at most 16 points of credit from APs.
But for Barnard students who had limited access to these exams, either due to cost or because their high schools did not offer AP or IB classes, it is often difficult, if not impossible, to double major or take lighter course loads each semester.
At $94 per test, AP exams are often out of reach for low-income students. Even at the College Board’s reduced fee of $53, the price is still prohibitive for some students.
To take an IB exam this May, students must first pay a one-time $168 registration fee, and then $116 per exam. Next year, those fees will jump to $172 and $119, respectively. No information regarding increased fee waivers is currently available.
As a result, these students often struggle to find time to pursue extracurriculars, study abroad programs, or internships.
“It puts a lot of low-income students at a disadvantage, because most of the high schools that have AP or IB [courses] are paying hundreds of dollars to even offer those courses,” Mo Crist, BC ’19, said. “And students are paying almost $100 per [AP exam], so even people who are able to go to schools that have AP classes aren’t able to take the test and get the scores to get the credit for [the class]. It’s definitely a class issue.”
Furthermore, Crist added that further exacerbating this problem is the fact that Barnard does not currently offer academic credit for internships. For students struggling to reach the required 122 credits to graduate, this often means forgoing internship opportunities in order to take more credits each semester.
“Coming into college without those backup credits is just an added stressor, knowing that you have to complete these 122 credits while other people have extra time to have a job or an internship or another thing to add to their resume,” Crist said. “I wish that there were more opportunities to get credits outside of classes… I know that at a lot of schools you can get credits for internships and other things like that.”
And while many students can use their AP credits, which count as elective credits, as a safety net to fall back on, Ferrante noted that students with little to no AP credits do not have the same peace of mind.
“I don’t have any backup [credits],” Ferrante said. “I just have to keep taking [classes for my major], and I’m not really sure if that’s what I want to do yet, so if I end up choosing a different major, I’ll be really behind. ”
Associate Provost Patricia Denison, who is the chair of the Committee on Instruction, said that the College is aware that students whose high schools didn’t offer AP or IB courses may be differently affected by the policy, and added that Barnard is reviewing the policies of peer institutions and remains open to changing its own.
Before fall 2016, Barnard offered exemptions from general education requirements for nearly every AP and IB exam. Barnard’s policy has recently become more restrictive, but the college remains more generous than many of its peers.
At Columbia College, AP scores, for which students can earn a maximum of 16 points of credit, cannot be used toward exemption from any of the Core Curriculum requirements; however, they may be used to satisfy the foreign language requirement and individual departments determine whether or not to grant placement, credit, and or exemptions for AP scores.
In recent years, Dartmouth College and Brown University announced that they would no longer allow students to use AP exam scores as credit toward graduation.
Despite this, for current students, the lack of available credits from high school has still put pressure on them during their time at college.
“It’s just like a system of people perpetually coming in behind in a way that’s not their fault at all and then continuing to be behind because of the system that Barnard has put up, and Barnard isn’t doing any work to close that gap for students,” Crist said.