Why Advanced Studies

SAS is committed to providing exceptional learning opportunities for the diverse needs and interests of our students. Advanced Topic courses and Advanced Placement courses together form our advanced studies offerings.

Our AT courses provide our students learning opportunities that are relevant, align to our desired student learning outcomes (DSLOs), and are recognized by colleges as a part of a rigorous and challenging course of study. We also recognize and value many of our AP courses and the deep culture that SAS has regarding our AP curriculum. It is for this reason that we have implemented SAS AT courses alongside high quality AP courses; each advanced studies course has been vetted and approved by our vetting team of administration, counselors, teachers, and admissions representatives.We now proudly offer over 40 advanced studies courses.

The 2016–17 course catalog introduced five new AT courses first, and in 2017–18, five more were introduced. This year, we are pleased to introduce two additional AT courses: AT Multivariable Calculus and Linear Algebra and AT Economics: Globalization. Over 20 AP courses remain available to students alongside 25 AP exams. With the SAS advanced studies course offerings, all students are ensured a rigorous and relevant course of study.

In addition, SAS is piloting a co-crediting partnership with Syracuse University through their Project Advance program. The Syracuse University Project Advance (SUPA) program is a concurrent enrollment program linking Syracuse University with secondary schools. Through this partnership, SAS can offer qualified high school students who are taking select Advanced Topic courses the opportunity to concurrently enroll in Syracuse University courses for university credit. During the 2018–19 school year, two courses at SAS will offer concurrent enrollment opportunities: AT Computational Physics and AT Economics: Globalization. Concurrent enrollment is not mandatory, and students will choose whether or not to participate at the beginning of the course. In some cases, students pursuing university credit through Syracuse University may be required to engage in self-study and complete additional assessments. In addition, please note that there is a fee per credit hour that participating students and families must pay. This fee is determined by Syracuse University. Additionally, we will continue to explore partnerships with Syracuse University for some of our other AT courses for subsequent years.

We are excited to offer these advanced studies courses and opportunities for our students. In addition to the information provided in this guide, we offer extensive responses to many of the most frequently asked questions about advanced studies.

We also encourage you to bring your questions to your high school counselors. They will gladly help clarify and are eager to support families and students to plan a course of study.

Advanced Studies FAQs Advanced Studies White Paper


Why Advanced Topic Courses?

Our multi-year research process to improve, innovate, and adapt our educational program for twenty-first century learners revealed that to be a world leader in education, we would have to rethink our most challenging classes for high school students.

The specific recommendation that emerged was to introduce Advanced Topic (AT) courses that will cultivate exceptional thinkers by supplementing and balancing our extensive Advanced Placement (AP) offerings. AT courses are intended to help our students be prepared for the future by giving them learning opportunities relevant to our changing world and aligned to our desired student learning outcomes (DSLOs).

Our research revealed that, while Advanced Placement (AP) courses are rigorous, some of them focus primarily on the acquisition of content knowledge at the expense of important, transferable skills and concepts. Furthermore, the AP program does not allow us to offer advanced courses of special interest to our students, such as tropical ecology, entrepreneurship, kinesiology, or Chinese history taught in Chinese. We found that similar concerns are causing many excellent American high schools to develop their own college-level courses, and that college admissions officers are generally supportive of these efforts and enthusiastic about students’ honors-level accomplishments beyond the traditional AP structure.

By retaining those AP courses that fit our educational priorities and complementing them with AT courses designed specifically for our place and time, we offer students more rewarding options and opportunities to challenge themselves in their studies, prepare themselves for their futures, and distinguish themselves in the college application process.

Giving High School Students Opportunities to

Pursue unique courses of study

with rigorous, skills-based curricula and real-world application

Experience college-level classes

developed by expert high school teachers collaborating with university professors

Complete challenging, self-directed

projects that develop the knowledge and skills relevant to the field of study and students' future ambitions

Differentiate themselves

in the college admissions process through distinctive academic experiences and accomplishments

How Are Our AT Courses Different From Our AP Courses

While our AP courses typically give students a breadth of knowledge about specific subject areas and prepare them for the standardized AP test in that subject, our AT courses are designed to give students an equally rigorous but very different experience. Our priorities for our AT courses are that they:

encourage depth of inquiry and interdisciplinary connections
allow students to focus on specific topics and projects that interest them
develop students' essential competencies, that is, the core skills and knowledge that will be essential to their success in college and beyond
encourage high levels of analysis, synthesis, and evaluation
develop the SAS DSLOs while exploring both theoretical and real-world topics
be relevant to students' future academic and employment ambitions
engage students in challenging individual and group projects that demand planning, perseverance, and reflection

AT Courses were created in collaboration with college professors and vetted by university admissions representatives.

AT? AP? Why Does SAS Offer Both?

We are committed to providing each SAS student with high quality, personalized learning opportunities. We see our AT and AP courses as complementing each other in this goal. These two types of college-level classes give SAS students varied opportunities to learn different skills and topics, address different criteria for excellence, explore their own interests, and distinguish themselves from other applicants in the college admissions process.

The SAS college counselors have asked hundreds of college representatives what they think of AT courses, and the response has been universal approval. US colleges do encourage applicants to take the most rigorous course loads possible in which they can do well. AT courses allow SAS students to demonstrate the highest level of rigor in a wide range of course areas. US colleges often look for students who delve into particular areas, who are interesting, who have engaged in coursework with real-world applications, and who differentiate themselves from their peers. AT courses offer students a way to do all of these things.Tina Forbush, SAS College Counselor

We recognize the academic value of many Advanced Placement courses, especially as the College Board has rewritten a number of them to address schools’ concerns about their pace and breadth of inquiry. We also respect the deep culture that SAS has regarding our AP curriculum and the preference of many SAS families that students have access to a strong suite of AP courses. For these reasons, our strategic plan calls for retaining high-quality AP courses that have been approved by our vetting team of teachers, administrators, counselors, and admissions representatives. As we phase out four AP courses by 2019-20, our AP program will comprise around twenty courses.

Our AT courses offer students different opportunities for rewarding academic engagement and differentiation in the college admissions process. Some AT courses address topics not available through the AP program, while others will replace AP courses that do not fit our priorities for student learning. When applicable and stated in the high school program planning guide, AT courses will offer students the opportunity to take the relevant AP exam. All AT courses are designed to require rigorous study, deep thinking, interdisciplinary connections, and mastery of competencies relevant to students’ future academic and professional interests. Our strategic plan calls for the gradual expansion of our AT program over the next few years until it also includes around twenty courses.

Altogether, our high school will offer over forty college-level courses by 2020. We anticipate that most our high school students will opt to take one or more of each type of course during their high school career, and we are confident that together our AT and AP offerings give students enhanced challenges and opportunities in the context of an exemplary American educational experience with an international perspective.

AT Nuts and Bolts

Development and Oversight of AT Courses

We base the development of each AT course on the imperative to teach SAS students knowledge and skills relevant to future opportunities and not otherwise taught at an advanced level at SAS. Our AT courses span a broad range of subject areas, from business to physics and urban planning to performing arts.

Before receiving its first students, each AT course goes through a rigorous 18-month development and vetting process. AT teachers are selected based on their professional experience, expertise in the subject area, and desire to embrace a unique research and teaching challenge. During course development, the teacher benchmarks the course against similar advanced course offerings at other schools, consults with SAS colleagues and college admissions officers to ensure rigor and alignment with our DSLOs, and finds a university professor who will act as a strategic partner.

As the course is finalized, the professor checks it carefully to ensure that both its curriculum and assessments meet college-level requirements. Only then does the university partner officially endorse the course, and only then is it considered ready for student enrollment. Once the course is running, it continues to undergo scrutiny through a comprehensive audit process involving feedback and advice from SAS faculty and administrators, university partners, and students.

Student selection of AT Courses

  • Due to their rigorous requirements and prerequisites, most AT courses are only open to students in grades 11 and 12.
  • AT courses are designed to be accessible to all students who have successfully completed the relevant academic prerequisites or application process.
  • Students work with their personal academic counselors to develop an appropriate and challenging course of study, which may or may not include both AP and AT courses.
  • Like AP courses, AT courses may span either one or two semesters.
  • Students in the Quest program have Quest-specific AT options.

How many courses may a student take?

  • Students may take as many AT courses as they wish during their high school years. Counselors will help them make wise choices about challenging themselves while maintaining a healthy work-life balance.
  • SAS has capped the number of AP courses at seven year-long equivalent courses during a student’s high school years. This is intended to decrease pressure on students to take as many AP courses as possible and allow them to pursue other avenues to develop their interests and personalize their learning. This cap was instituted after extensive conversations with over 100 college admissions officers, many of whom noted that the “AP arms race” often limits a student’s ability to engage in activities that set him or her apart in the application process.

AT course grades

  • Students receive letter grades for AT courses, which are increased by 0.5 in the student’s GPA calculation, as are AP course grades. This is intended to recognize these courses’ demanding expectations, and encourage students to challenge themselves with high-level courses.
  • Some colleges recalculate a student’s GPA using their own criteria. Some do not accept the 0.5 weighting for either AP or AT courses, while some only accept it for one or the other. Our college counselors work with each student to understand the specifics of his or her target colleges.
  • Regardless of the GPA calculation, college admissions officers generally view AT courses as indicating both a student’s commitment to a challenging academic program and a deep interest in a certain field of study.

Exams and college recognition of AT courses

  • AT courses culminate in student-directed projects, but do not lead to an external examination.
  • In some cases, students taking an AT course may also take an AP exam in that subject. This may necessitate some independent study by the student.
  • Depending on the college, an AT course may be allowed to serve as a prerequisite for a higher-level course. In general, colleges do not allow AT courses to count as college credits.

Our AT Courses Create Students who Can tackle the ever-changing problems of our future.

What Students Say

"I signed up for AT Entrepreneurship on a whim; as a senior, I wanted to try a class that was project-based and collaborative, rather than focused on readings and tests. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised when we had the opportunity to work with two real-life startup businesses, coming up with solutions for their problems and interviewing potential customers. Entrepreneurship is thoroughly unlike the traditional classroom experience, something which makes it both challenging and exciting to come to class each day.”Ruth J, student,
AT Entrepreneurship
"From constructing the square root of a number using just a compass and straight edge to discovering triangles whose angle sums add up to more than 180 degrees, I have loved every astonishing aspect of AT Post-Euclidean Geometry. Now, I have a whole new understanding of the true beauty of geometry.”Annie K., student,
AT Post-Euclidean Geometry
"I took the AT Tropical Ecology/AP Environmental Science course [now AT Environmental Science & Field Research] due to my strong interest in pursuing environmental science in college… the rigor of my AT course was the equivalent of that of an AP, sometimes even proving to be more difficult, since we were often tested on concepts that were not a part of the AP curriculum. Furthermore, the expectation was to learn for the sake of learning, not for the sake of short-term retention for a test. Thus, the AT course would take us into more depth on certain topics that concerned us, which for an environmental science course in Singapore would be “tropical ecology”. I truly believe that I learned much more and furthered my skills in communications, making connections, and creativity, which might have not been possible in just any AP course.”Ana V., student,
AT Environmental Science & Field Research
"The AT Performing Arts class has pushed me out of the comforts of my regular music and drama classes by asking me to really examine why I choose to be a performer and what makes me an artist. Through the creation of digital portfolios and artistic statements, our abilities to articulate those specific inner feelings of passion and devotion are nurtured and refined. It is one of the most enriching classes I have taken at SAS, covering all aspects of a regular advanced arts course (online music theory, senior recitals, theater production leadership), while adding interdisciplinary collaboration with other creative minds.”Mika M., student,
AT Performing Arts

AT Students Survey

Relevant content skills and application

relevant content skills and application


relevant content skills and application


relevant content skills and application

Depth over

relevant content skills and application

Focus on

relevant content skills and application


relevant content skills and application

Rigor relative
to AP courses

relevant content skills and application

What statement best compares the rigor of this AT course as compared to your AP experience?

24.1% more rigor28.4% less rigorous43.1% Same rigor

Advanced topic Courses give our kids the competitive edge in college admissions and completion, and in their roles as leaders.

How College Admissions Officers View AT Courses

The hundreds of college admissions officers we consulted before developing our first AT courses and since launching the program have in general been very enthusiastic. They strongly believe that our DSLOs of character, collaboration, communication, content knowledge, creativity, critical thinking, and cultural competence are essential skills in college and beyond. They also agree that AT courses’ unique subject matter and college-level challenges can help students stand out in the application process.

To ensure that universities understand how our AT courses fit into our broader program of studies, SAS college counselors have taken additional steps to educate universities about them. We include information about our AT offerings in our school profile and counselors speak about them with every university representative visiting SAS (approximately 230 per year). College counselors may also include information regarding AT courses in students’ recommendation letters.

As more schools decide to offer comparable honors-level courses, college admissions staff have become increasingly sophisticated in their understanding of the benefits they offer. In developing our AT courses, we looked at other high-performing private and public schools that have successfully implemented similar programs, such as Phillips Academy, University of Chicago Laboratory School, San Francisco University School, Scarsdale High School, Sidwell Friends School, Nueva School, and Crossroads School for Arts & Sciences. In fact, Scarsdale, a large public school with demographics similar to ours, had like concerns when they transitioned from AP to AT. They now have ten years’ worth of data that demonstrate that their college admission rates have held steady or improved since they introduced their Advanced Topics curriculum.

"[In AT Chinese Language: History] students are encouraged to choose various topics with their research interest, [and] even to challenge some controversial topics at college level… [having reviewed some students’ work] I appreciate their maturity in writing structures which help express their views logically and reasonably. I could also see students’ efforts in employing exact and appropriate words and phrases to enrich their writings. With students’ higher enthusiasm about and participation in the AT course… plus more authentic materials for their readings and writings, I believe [AT Chinese Language: History] is qualified to meet the basic course requirements at the college level." 
Dr. Tao Jianmin, Professor,
East China Normal University, Shanghai, China
"I am proud to endorse the new Advanced Topic (AT) course in Kinesiology at Singapore American School. The course embodies the ideals that educators strive for when developing advanced academic programming through school-university partnerships and is designed to provide SAS high school students with introductory college-level preparation in kinesiology… The course content, instructional approaches, and applied learning tasks move well beyond the book learning and seatwork of typical, and even many advanced, high school classes. I believe AT Kinesiology will serve as a model for course development and delivery in other subjects, and in other schools, helping to set the trend for 21st century secondary education.

Dr. Collin A. Webster, Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Physical Education, University of South Carolina