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Is the AP Capstone Program Worth It?

Recently, I had a proud mom moment. I answered a call from my oldest child, who is away at college, with her telling me, “We won, we did it!” She was elated as her college competition a cappella group had indeed won first place in an important competition. The joy and excitement in her voice put a huge smile on my face as I started to reflect on how she has loved singing since the age of five.

I remember driving her to countless auditions over the years; sometimes she landed a part in a show, and at other times, her name was nowhere to be found on the cast list. Auditioning and receiving a role was always part skill, part luck, and part lottery. When she didn’t land a part, we never knew why.

So when my oldest embarked on the college admissions process, a familiar feeling swept over me. At the end of the day, our kids put their best foot forward, but we never know what the admissions officer (on the other side of the table so to speak) is thinking as they evaluate an application. We don’t know why one is admitted, and another denied. As parents, we don’t have all the answers.

This past school year I started down the college admissions road with my second child. I was lucky enough to find Sara Harberson and Application Nation, the private Facebook groups she created for parents of college-bound students. I joined Application Nation to get answers to specific questions about my second child and to build upon my “first-timer” knowledge. I was determined to know more this time around; to have all the answers.

The AP Capstone Diploma Program

Recently a discussion ensued on the Application Nation boards about a newer program established by the College Board targeting “high-achievers,” called the AP Capstone Diploma Program. It seemed that some parents whose students were in the program, or who had younger kids looking to take advantage of AP Capstone were having trouble understanding how it is viewed by colleges. Families were getting different answers from both high school counselors and college admissions offices—and I wanted to know why.

Need help navigating the college admissions process with your child?
Join Application Nation, a suite of private Facebook groups hosted by Sara Harberson. 
(P.S. Kathy is an active member!)

With encouragement from Sara and the support of my background as a researcher, I began to do a deep dive into the program that had raised so many questions and confusion in the Application Nation groups. Specifically, how colleges view the AP Capstone program, and if the classes taken (AP Seminar and AP Research) counted as English classes coming from high school.

Every high school that offers the AP Capstone program appears to incorporate the program differently into their curriculum. Some high schools are permitting students to use the AP Capstone program classes to fulfill English requirements (a student would therefore forgo, for example, AP Language and/or AP Literature). In other cases, a high school might require students to take an English class in addition to the AP Capstone classes. From the information shared between parents on Application Nation, it almost appeared as if the high school counselors were making recommendations about this program without really knowing the consequences.

Going Down the Rabbit Hole

What struck me as odd was that, when calling around to colleges to get answers, many times I was given different answers from the same college admissions office. In fact, I even got different answers from a sampling of colleges on how they view the program. When calling one highly selective public university, the person who answered the phone in admissions said that the AP Seminar and AP Research classes would be considered an English class (i.e., satisfy the high school English requirement). But, when in direct contact with a regional admissions officer for that same university, he said he could not give a blanket statement, as they review each student’s application and English requirements according to the curriculum available within their high school. In fact, when I reached out to a couple other colleges, the person answering the admissions line was unfamiliar with the program, and I was directed to another staff member in the admissions department.

At a few colleges, I was given the answer that the AP Capstone classes are not considered a replacement for English classes. And, specifically at one college they mentioned that although the AP Capstone is a great program, they still liked to see students take the five core classes (English, Math, History, Foreign Language and Science) in each of their four years of high school. Even more examples of conflicting answers. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a consensus on how colleges view this program, and specifically, there are a number of colleges that do not consider AP Capstone classes as meeting an English requirement.

"Interestingly, there doesn’t seem to be a consensus on how colleges view the AP Capstone program." TWEET THIS 

What I found even more interesting is that the College Board website has a list of the colleges that signed a statement of support endorsing the AP Capstone’s rigorous interdisciplinary approach, and a list of those colleges that provide "credit" for this program. I tried contacting customer service at the College Board to get a better understanding of what this “endorsement” meant. The representatives I initially spoke with were not able to answer my questions, and the one person with the program knowledge appeared to be just reciting what was on their website.

Interestingly enough, I decided to look on the website of one highly selective public university that was listed on the College Board’s website as granting credit for the AP Capstone program. However, when looking at the university undergraduate admissions website, none of the AP Capstone courses were listed on their charts for granting AP credit. No answers, more confusion.

The Bottom Line

So, after all this, what's my take on the AP Capstone program? Knowing the confusion surrounding the program, is it worth the risk? The short answer is no if the student is going to replace core classes with AP Seminar and AP Research. With the caveat that this is just one deeply invested parent's opinion, and I'm not an expert by any means, I think the program is still too green to take this risk. If the student has room in their schedule and interest in the program, they can add it on. But I wouldn't do it at the expense of a core class. My opinion may change as the program becomes more established. For now, I recommend students to stay the course and follow their high school's most challenging core curriculum.

My biggest takeaway from looking into the AP Capstone program is that it’s impossible to have all the answers. As hard as it is, as parents we must go forward with eyes wide-open, continue to ask questions, and try our hardest to guide our children and provide the best information we can. And once the college acceptances begin to roll in, we’ll finally have some answers.