Advanced Studies FAQs

Click here for a shortened version of the FAQs below. Livestream videos from our parent coffees are also available in MySAS portal here.

Singapore American School is committed to providing exceptional learning opportunities for the diverse needs and interests of our students. Beginning in 2012, SAS faculty and leadership conducted exhaustive research to ensure that our students are learning at the highest level possible, are prepared for college, and have mastered skills that will help them be successful in the current and future workforce. For the high school, this work resulted in a series of recommendations that were adopted in May 2014 as part of the school’s strategic plan. These recommendations were approved by the high school faculty, administration, superintendent, and board for implementation over the subsequent six years.

One of the specific adopted recommendations is introduction of advanced topic (AT) courses to supplement the current suite of rigorous courses at SAS. These AT courses give 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 so they can successfully apply to some of the world’s most selective colleges.

Our research revealed that, while Advanced Placement (AP) courses are rigorous, some of these courses focus almost entirely on the acquisition of content knowledge, often at the expense of relevant, transferable skills and concepts. We found that many high schools are moving away from AP courses in favor of more relevant, interdisciplinary, project-based, yet equally rigorous AT courses. This shift allows high schools to offer courses that are unique to their institution and helps distinguish their students in the college application process.

And while some schools are eliminating AP courses entirely, we also recognize both the value of many Advanced Placement courses, especially as the College Board has rewritten a number of them, and the deep culture that SAS has regarding our AP curriculum. It is for this reason that our strategic plan calls for the implementation of SAS AT courses alongside high quality AP courses that have been vetted and approved by our vetting team of administration, counselors, teachers and admissions representatives. AT and AP together form our advanced studies offerings.

To ensure that our students are well served by our advanced studies strategy, the high school administration interviewed over one hundred college admissions officers. Those officers consistently supported the creation of AT courses at SAS. Many of these colleges also strongly recommended that we limit the number of AP courses our students could take. If students take fewer APs, they have more room in their schedules to pursue classes and extracurricular activities that allow them to develop their future-ready skills and demonstrate their specific interest or passion. The AP cap of seven courses will help our students to personalize their learning, and stand out in the college admission process.

Since 2014, the SAS high school faculty and leadership have been working on the development of new SAS course offerings that will include AT courses alongside our AP courses. This includes a rigorous course development and vetting process, course mapping, dozens of departmental meetings to determine what courses will be developed, and the rollout of courses over a four-year period of time.

The 2016–17 course catalog introduced five new AT courses available for students, and in 2017–18, five more were introduced. Many AP courses are also available to students, while a few courses that are less relevant or effective have been designated for phasing out. With the SAS course offerings, all students are ensured a rigorous and relevant course of study, and increasingly that course of study is customized for each student’s interests and also ensures that the skills developed align to SAS standards and desired student learning outcomes (DSLO).

We are excited to offer these advanced studies courses for our students. And while we believe that the courses offered will be exciting and interesting for our students, this is a change for our families, so we offer the following frequently asked questions (FAQ) to help guide you through any questions you may have. We also encourage you to bring your questions to your high school counselor. They will gladly help provide clarity and are eager to help any family as they plan a course of study with their child.

Questions about Advanced Placement and Advanced Topics

What is an Advanced Topic (AT) course?

Our high school students first gained access to our initial round of five advanced topic (AT) courses at the start of the 2016-17 school year; by 2019, our plan is that they will have access to at least ten more. AT courses are designed in conjunction with external university partners to be highly engaging, relevant, and interdisciplinary. AT courses are college-level, GPA-weighted (like Advanced Placement courses) and are based on our desired student learning outcomes of character, collaboration, communication, content knowledge, creativity, critical thinking, and cultural competence. The implementation of AT courses is driven by our strategic plan which calls for an increase in relevant, engaging, interdisciplinary courses.

Why do we need AT courses?

Prior to the creation of advanced topic courses, SAS’s only option for rigorous, college-level courses was what was offered by the College Board through the Advanced Placement (AP) program. Though many of the AP courses created by the College Board are excellent, others are dated, focus less on relevant skills, or are simply not available in some content areas. For example, there were no options in physical education or the performing arts and only two choices in English.

To adhere to our strategic anchors of excellence and possibilities, we know that we must provide additional options for students to take highly relevant college-level courses in a variety of content areas. The AT course development process provides us with a rigorous system for building courses that leverage our exceptional SAS faculty, our location in Singapore for relevant learning, and the teaching of those skills we believe are most relevant for our students’ futures (e.g., character, collaboration, communication, core knowledge, creativity, critical thinking, and cultural competence). We are providing experiences for our students that they are not likely to get anywhere else in the world. These experiences will help our students to personalize their learning and stand out.

Are we moving towards an all AT academic program?

No. We are committed to doing what we believe best serves our students as well as our mission. At this time, our research indicates that a hybrid advanced studies program that includes both AT and AP course offerings is the best way forward.

How are AT courses vetted, and how do we ensure college-level rigor?

Our AT courses are homegrown at Singapore American School.

While there is not one overarching body that guides the development of programs like our AT program, we do reference and benchmark our ATs with courses at the university level and organizations that support the development of curricula. One such organization is the Independent Curriculum Group. The ICG is a consortium of public and independent secondary schools committed to the development of “high quality, mission-based, teacher-created curriculum and assessments.”

One thing we are certain of: in all of our research, we did not find any other school that vets or audits their advanced topic courses as seriously or as thoroughly as we do. We are committed to ensuring that we are offering the level of rigor that our reputation demands in the college admissions process. We are the only school we know of that has gone so far as to insist on university partners during the development stage, university admissions representatives as part of our vetting team, and a yearly audit of our courses with our university partners (using our students’ actual assessments) to ensure that our students are completing college-level work.

The annual vetting and auditing process includes the support and evaluation measures that are listed in the tables below.

Vetting Criteria:



External Validation
  • Strategic partner validates the relevance of the learning, as well as the level of rigor.
  • College admissions officers on the vetting team validate the relevance of the learning as well as the level of rigor.
  • Examples of external validation include, yet are not limited to university endorsement of course, university credit, and external examinations.

Relevant Content, Skills, and Application
  • Focus on authentic opportunities for interdisciplinary study and investigations
  • Adopt learning contexts where students grapple with appropriate, complex and difficult real-life challenges.
  • Topics are not be discipline or instructor specific; instead, ample research, counselor feedback, and student input/data are be used to inform course development.

Competency Based Rigor
  • Rigorous learning experiences that are sufficiently and appropriately challenging for individual students or groups of students, not simply difficult.
  • Learning experiences and assessments employ knowledge and concepts that are complex, ambiguous, or contentious; encourage students to question their assumptions and think deeply (rather than recall)
  • Develop skills that students apply in a variety of educational, career, and civic contexts throughout their lives.

DSLO Development
  • DSLOs integrated using competency targets that connect with knowledge standards.
  • Incorporate communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity based activities that are appropriate for the intended learning.
  • Develop formative and summative assessments with rubrics identifying skill-based rigor.

Depth Over Breadth
  • Provide opportunities for students to dive deep into relevant content and knowledge standards.
  • Leave time for students to further explore topics they find most interesting/relevant.
  • Develop formative and summative assessments with rubrics identifying rigorous expectations, such as, analysis, synthesis, judgment, evaluation, and creation.

Focus on Production
  • Incorporate at least one Project Based Learning (PBL) unit per semester of the course where students focus on production over consumption.
  • Allow for student voice/choice, self-directed learning, and hands-on production.
  • Projects should be the catalyst for learning; not simply a summative assessment.

Real World Applications
  • When possible, co-develop topics and units with a strategic partner from a relevant academic field or profession.
  • Create opportunities for developing learning networks (for peer coaching, professional mentoring, experiential learning, etc.).
  • Use current technology to enrich and deepen the educational experience.




  • Feedback obtained annually from students who are enrolled in AT courses.
Brand Recognition
  • Feedback from college representatives who visit the school.

  • All new AT courses undergo extensive vetting and receive feedback from college partners, college admissions officers, college counselors and administration before they are offered.
  • Internal auditing process to assess fidelity. Course syllabi and major assessments are reviewed annually.
  • External auditing process to assess rigor. College and industry strategic partners evaluate the quality of student work to assure rigor.

College Competitiveness
  • Looking for course rigor.
  • Looking for ways to make our transcripts stand out.
  • Looking for influence of AT courses on crucial qualitative elements of students’ applications: essays, recommendations.

    Note: Rationales for admissions decisions are never shared by universities. Establishing causality between any individual academic program and admissions outcomes is therefore not possible.
Readiness for 21st Century
  • 2017-18 is second year of implementation. Planning to begin surveying alumni who have participated in the AT program to obtain perception data on effect of AT participation on readiness.

Furthermore, to ensure that AT courses are available year-over-year, we build in capacity within our faculty, too, should one of our AT faculty move on from SAS. Professional learning community (PLC) teams exist for our AT courses, or courses are co-taught for consistency between sections and years.

Do AT courses have final assessments?

Yes. As the emphasis is on developing 21st Century skills, AT course final assessments consist of real-world applications. We measure whether students can do something by actually having them do it. This is in contrast with AP examinations which include items that serve as a proxy for the skills being targeted.

With AT(s), are we expecting students to do in high school what they should be doing in college?

Both our AT and AP curricula are college-level. Both are audited annually to ensure college-level rigor.

ATs, with their emphasis on real-world applications and student choice, are designed to prepare students for the kind of work that they are likely to be doing in the college classroom. We work with our strategic university partners the review and audit the syllabus, instruction, and student work to ensure our students are learning at the college-level. As one of our college counselors shared at our evening together, colleges are increasingly looking for students who arrive on campus comfortable with the skills our DSLOs (Desired Student Learning Outcomes) explicitly teach and assess. Students who arrive on campus with these skills are more likely to be ready and most importantly, successful, in college.

Are students sacrificing breadth for depth?

We know that in today’s world, much information can be found within seconds using a search engine. We literally carry a breadth of knowledge in our pockets via our smart phones. To be ready for an uncertain future, students need to know how to access information, and more importantly, know how to apply that information in meaningful ways. This is why we have specifically designed our AT courses around our desired student learning outcomes; we know that what matters most is what students do with what they know.

We also know that students need to know content in order to apply it. That’s why one of our desired student learning outcomes is content knowledge. In an AT course, our faculty work with students to build appropriate content knowledge so that students are able to apply it. We believe in content and skills. AT courses provide us with the opportunity to teach only the most relevant content so that students can spend more time on the application of that content in real world and project-based ways.

How many advanced studies courses will be available in the future?

We are currently projecting that by 2019 there will be approximately 21 AP courses with 25 AP exams offered and approximately 20 AT courses. Though some courses will be phased out and others will be created (a typical high school approach), this will serve as the right mix for our varied student needs. The table below provides a historical and future perspective on our AP and AT courses. The table uses 2012 as a reference point for comparison of past and present. (Note: 2012 is the year prior to the start of our research and development efforts.)

Historical and Future Advanced Studies Course Projections



2017–18 & 2018–1928261339

*3 AP courses ran on an inconsistent basis during the 2012-13 school year
**Projected AT Courses
***Projected total advanced course offerings

Note: These numbers are different than the ones shared in our first FAQ (we have added AP Physics 1 back into the totals bringing our AP courses to 26, and we have added 13 ATs slated for 2017-18, not 14)

In addition, please visit this link for an overview of the specific advanced studies course offerings that we project to offer for 2017–2018 through 2020–2021.

Why are we removing some AP courses?

While the high school has been provided additional teachers to develop and teach our AT courses, we are still constrained by the fact that we have finite resources that need to be divided amongst three divisions. Our target class size at the high school is 22 students. This is the target we use for staffing and budgetary purposes. We informally categorize courses within a department into three broad buckets: (1) support courses, (2) college-preparatory courses, (3) college-level courses. Advanced studies courses comprise our college-level course offerings.

As you add more courses to a department, the likelihood that courses will be under-enrolled increases and the need for additional staffing increases. This reality requires us to eliminate existing offerings in order to add new opportunities.

It is most equitable to eliminate existing advanced courses in order to offer new advanced courses. The alternative would be to withdraw resources that are currently being used to ensure a quality experience for our struggling and more average learners. That would be an unacceptable inequity from our perspective. This means that choices needed to be made about which AP courses to discontinue and phase out.

As part of our process, we worked with each high school department to identify AP courses that could be phased out. In many cases, courses that were eliminated were courses that had very low enrollment, were beholden to examinations that valued broad content coverage over in-depth understanding, or lacked significant opportunities for students to grow those skills we know are vital for their futures (e.g., our desired student learning outcomes—character, collaboration, communication, content knowledge, creativity, critical thinking, and cultural competence (DSLOs)).

Our AT courses that will serve as replacements allow us to design rigorous courses that focus explicitly on the SAS desired student learning outcomes and those skills that have been identified as essential for success in our ever changing global economy. In other words, we want to provide students with the opportunity to experience what it means to be a geographer, historian or a computational physicist, for instance, rather than learning a breadth of content without application.

Which AP courses are being phased out?

The APs being phased out are AP Human Geography, AP Psychology and AP World History. Currently, AT courses in geography, psychology and historical inquiry are being developed, and we look forward to sharing more about them in the new year once they have finalized their vetting.

AP Physics 1 and AP Literature will no longer be offered in their current form, but these exams will still be available through AT Computational Physics and AT Literary Studies with some limited self-study.

Currently, the AP Environmental Science, AP Seminar and AP Research exams are each available through an AT course option.

Can AT courses help prepare students for AP exams?

AT courses are developed using a rigorous vetting process that includes emphasis on our desired student learning outcomes (DSLOs), college-level core content, and personalization. If at the end of the course creation, we feel students may still be successful on a related AP exam with limited self-study, we will offer that AP exam on campus and provide support to students. The courses are not designed with the AP exam in mind.

Examples of such courses include AT Environmental Science & Field Research and AT Computational Physics. These courses are highly relevant and DSLO-focused, and because of the nature of their content, a student can sit the AP exam with limited self-study.

We have been informed by the prospective teachers of our AT geography, historical inquiry and psychology courses that the content alignment between the AT course in these areas and the AP exam is 60% or less. Given that number, students would have to engage in a great deal of self-study (to learn 40% or more of the material on a given exam) in order to perform well on an AP test. Our research shows us that maintaining access to these exams is both (a) not required and (b) potentially detrimental to students. These exams are not required to obtain entrance to any university. In fact, many colleges do not use AP scores in the application review process, and no school will penalize a student for not taking an exam we do not offer. Offering AP exams in AT courses that do not have content alignment is potentially detrimental because students may feel compelled by their peers or by misconceptions about the college admissions process to self-study for these examinations. This would divert students’ focus from other more valuable pursuits such as their current classes and extracurricular commitments.

It should be noted that our approach to AT courses and AP exams is common in other schools we researched. We benchmarked many high-performing private and public schools that have implemented this approach with success. Examples of these schools include Phillips Academy, University of Chicago Laboratory School, San Francisco University School, Scarsdale, Sidwell Friends, Nueva School, and Crossroads School for Arts and Sciences, to name a few.

If AP courses don't align with relevant learning, why are we keeping so many?

The College Board has made significant strides in construction and reconstruction of some of its courses; for example AP Biology and AP Research. Unfortunately, other courses, even after renewal, still fall short of what SAS feels is appropriate; for example AP World History. To determine which AP courses are appropriate and which need replacement, a vetting committee of counselors, administrators, and department chairs reviewed each AP course. Courses with low enrollment, and that were of little relevance or lacked learning leverage for a student’s future were eliminated. The remaining were kept.

Which AP exams do we plan to continue offering at SAS even after the corresponding AP courses are phased out?

We are projecting that SAS will remain an AP testing site for the examinations detailed in the below table.

Planned Support for Specific AP Exams


AP Environmental Science

AT Environmental Science and Field Research will prepare students for the AP Environmental Science exam.

AP Seminar

AT Seminar will prepare students for the AP Seminar exam.

AP Research

AT Research & Catalyst will prepare students for the AP Research exam.

AP Physics 1

We will offer the AP Physics 1 exam. Should an AT Computational Physics student wish to sit the AP Physics 1 exam, some self-study will be needed to be successful.

AP English: Literature

AP English Literature will be offered during the 2017-18 & 2018-19 school years, and we are in the process of developing and phasing in a literature-centered AT course. Students will have access to the AP English Literature exam.

Exam and course offerings will be re-examined each year to ensure student learning and program needs are being met. Please visit this link for an overview of the specific AP and AT course offerings that we project to offer for 2017–18 through 2020–21.

Some AP courses that are slated for removal are entry-level courses. Will the ATs that replace APs be as accessible as the ones that were replaced? What might be the implications of removing some of these entry-level AP courses?

Accessibility to courses for all students is an important design criteria for our programming. While developing and implementing our AT courses, we ensure that wherever we remove an accessible AP course, that we’re replacing it with an equally accessible AT.

Prerequisites for all advanced topic courses are described in detail in the Program Planning Guide. For AT courses that parallel AP courses being phased out, prerequisites are equivalent. For AP Human Geography and AP Psychology, while they will not have associated AP exams, our conversations with both US and UK colleges and universities have confirmed that there will be no negative impact to a student’s admission. Further, as advanced topic offerings, these two courses will receive increased GPA weighting (an additional 0.5 rather than the current 0.25).

Obtaining the AP Capstone diploma requires that students earn at least a 3 on the AP exams for AT Seminar and AT Research & Catalyst as well as on four additional AP examinations of their choosing. This is a highly rigorous course of study. Our analysis does not lead us to believe that phasing out AP Psychology and AP Human Geography will prevent students from accessing the AP Capstone Diploma.

The below table provides an overview of how we have approached this:

Accessibility of AT Courses


Semester Equivalent
These courses are at the college level, and are typically taught over a single semester at colleges. Examples include AP Human Geography and AP Psychology.

AT Entrepreneurship
AT Kinesiology
AT Finite Math Modeling
AT Post-Euclidean Geometry

Under development for 2019-20:
AT Human Geography (place held name)
AT Psychology (place held name)

Full-Year Equivalents
These courses are at the college level, and are typically taught over a full year at colleges. Examples include AP Literature, AP Seminar, AP Calculus AB

AT Computational Physics
AT English: Writing Seminar
AT Environmental Science & Field Research
AT Performing Arts
AT Seminar
AT Research & Catalyst

Under development for 2019-20:
AT History (place held name)
AT Literature (place held name)

Post-AP Courses
These courses are at the college level, typically offered at colleges as a follow-on to an introductory college course. An example is AP Physics C.

AT Chinese Language: Chinese History
AT Computer Science: Data Structures
AT Urban Studies

Why does the program planning guide state that you are replacing some AP courses in 2019-20 with AT courses of the same name (e.g. AT Literature, AT World History, AT Psychology, AT Human Geography)?

The names in the guide are simply placeholder names so that our school community knows that a course with similar content will replace it. For example, we are eliminating AP English Literature; the new AT course will be literature focused and of similar rigor. The new course will incorporate an interdisciplinary approach, our desired student learning outcomes, and access to Singapore-based resources for our students. The full, finalized name will be applied to the course once its initial development is completed. Then, we will begin a full school year of course refinement and community education about the new AT course.

Because course names matter, enormous thought goes into what we call our AT courses. On a transcript, a course title needs to explain to colleges the essence of the course within a limited number of characters. The name also has to be submitted to the NCAA clearinghouse so that our scholar-athletes can count them for credit. Our new AT course names are also vetted by a college admission representative for clarity. This is something we take very seriously, and as such, only a placeholder was added to the program planning guide.

Questions related to Advanced Placement Credit Limit

Why do we have an AP credit limit and to whom does it apply?


Starting with the graduating class of 2021, students may earn up to seven year-long-equivalent AP credits during their high school careers.  SAS will count all AP credits earned at any high school towards the SAS AP credit limit. Our AP credit limit ensures two things:

  • Readiness for 21st century
  • College competitiveness

Readiness for the 21st Century

Singapore American School’s vision is to be a world leader in education, cultivating exceptional thinkers who are prepared for the future. Our Advanced Topic (AT) courses are directly aligned to those skills we know are key to cultivating such thinkers.

Our research and development process revealed, and our continued conversations with industry leaders remind us, that for students to be successful in college and in life, they need both core knowledge and the ability to demonstrate proficiency in communication, collaboration, critical thinking, creativity and innovation, cultural competence and character. We call these seven skills our desired student learning outcomes (DSLOs). Based on our research, we created rigorous, vetted, college-level AT courses and other DSLO-aligned high school experiences (e.g. Catalyst and Quest) that allow our students opportunities to develop these skills.

We have not capped AT courses because we want students to have as many rich experiences as they choose within the course offerings we know are explicitly designed to help them become exceptional, future-ready thinkers.

College Competitiveness

Our research and development process also revealed that the college admissions landscape is changing and is increasingly competitive.

In conversation after conversation with college admission officers, they told us that they look for students who take the most appropriately rigorous path and who have clearly demonstrated their ability to complete college-level coursework. Beyond that, many colleges and universities prefer to see students who have deeply studied topics that interest them, rather than simply taking as many AP courses as possible. They are increasingly looking to a student’s ability to demonstrate deep, relevant, interdisciplinary, project-based, and applied learning; they are also looking for students who are collaborative, interactive, and engaged in the real world.

While AP courses certainly have college-level rigor, AP exam scores have a ceiling. When tens of thousands of students earn 5s on AP exams annually, earning a 5 is no longer the differentiator it used to be. On the other hand, AT courses have no ceiling when it comes to what’s possible for student performance and production. With their focus on rigorous, relevant, college-level coursework, ATs can give our students a way to stand out in the admissions process.

Please follow this link to view our Advanced Studies courses that will be available through 2020-2021.

How many AP courses will my child be able to take? What does the AP credit limit mean for access to AP exams?

The class of 2021 will be able to take a maximum of seven total year-long-equivalent credits in AP courses (14 total semesters of AP). This credit limit will allow our students to choose from nearly 40 of our Advanced Studies offerings. We currently offer and will continue to offer 20+ AP courses, an additional 19 Advanced Topic courses, plus our Catalyst course, independent study, and other personalized avenues.

Up to 7 year-long-equivalent AP credits may be earned by students in the graduating classes of 2021 and beyond. However, students will still be able to access up to 14 AP examinations during their SAS careers.

  • There are currently four AT courses after which students may elect to sit the related AP exam. There is close alignment of the content covered in these courses and our DSLOs:
    • AT Environmental Science & Fieldwork (AP Environmental Science exam)
    • AT Computational Physics (AP Physics 1 exam)
    • AT Seminar (AP Seminar exam)
    • AT Research & Catalyst (AP Research exam)
  • An additional AT course in this category will be offered beginning in the 2019-20 school year. Though the AT Literature course is not aligned to AP English Literature curriculum, the skill-based nature of the exam does not require much (if any) content knowledge, and students may draw from a wide body of literary works in answering questions on the exam:
    • AT Literature (AP English Literature exam)
  • Furthermore, there are currently four half-credit AP courses. Often, students will take two semesters of AP Government & Politics or two semesters of AP Economics. These students may sit two exams:
    • AP Macroeconomics
    • AP Microeconomics
    • AP Government & Politics: Comparative
    • AP Government & Politics: US

Is there an Advanced Topics credit limit?

No. Students may take as many Advanced Topics courses as they wish provided they meet the prerequisites and that this is in the student’s best interests as judged by the student, parents, and counselors.

Questions related to US College Admission

It seems like colleges and universities are still asking for test scores and AP(s). Are colleges really changing their admissions analysis?

Colleges are changing their analysis.

In conversation after conversation with college admission representatives, they told us that they look for students who take the most appropriately rigorous path and who have clearly demonstrated their ability to complete college-level coursework. Often, college admissions officers may use APs and honors as examples of what rigorous coursework could look like, but this does not mean that APs and honors are the only rigorous pathways or that they are necessarily what colleges and universities want; colleges and universities will evaluate the rigor of a student’s academic program in the context of what is offered by their high school. In other words, when we communicate on our school profile that ATs are college-level, admissions officers take that at face value.

Beyond rigor, many colleges and universities prefer to see students who have deeply studied topics that interest them rather than simply taking as many AP courses as possible. They are increasingly looking beyond course designations (AP, AT, Honors, etc.) to a student’s ability to demonstrate deep, relevant, interdisciplinary, and applied learning.

Today, colleges read students holistically. Colleges want students who are prepared for their educational experience; an experience that is collaborative, interactive, engaged in the real world, and project based; an educational experience where learning from your peers could be equally important as from your professor. To be competitive in US admissions, students need to show colleges more than just AP exam scores.

As far as test scores, each year more US universities are becoming test optional (referring to the SAT and ACT) as they recognize it’s not a single test taken on a Saturday, but four years of coursework, that are the best predictors of a student’s success in college.

If we do not change, our students risk being left behind in the US college admissions process.

Which universities have you spoken with about the shifts in advanced studies offerings?

The SAS college counselors have asked hundreds of college representatives what they think of AT courses, and the response has been universal approval. Many have been very impressed by the work that SAS has done in developing these courses. 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. Colleges will, therefore, by and large give AT and AP courses equal value as they are assessing the rigor of a student’s curriculum in their assessment processes.

Furthermore, 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. Colleges want to see students who look different—whose transcripts don’t just look like a carbon copy of many of their other applicants. SAS students with AT courses on their transcripts will look different from the typical applicant.

Finally, AT courses are given the same letter grade weighting as AP courses at SAS. Many US colleges will not recalculate the SAS GPA that we send them, so that those schools, there will be be no distinction between AT and AP classes. Universities that recalculate GPAs will decide on an individual basis what weight to give AT classes, which is why we take care to explain in multiple places in a student’s application that AT courses should be given equal weight to AP courses.

Independent schools (and some public school) in the US have been offering courses like AT classes for decades now, so colleges are used to seeing these kinds of classes on students’ transcripts. Indeed, some US high schools no longer offer AP classes at all -- they have moved toward curricula in which all advanced courses are offered based on an AT model. Colleges understand and appreciate the move to new curricular offerings.

How are we working to make sure that colleges understand our AT courses?

The college counseling office has taken great care to highlight AT courses with the hundreds of college representatives who come to SAS every year. AT courses are also featured on the front page of the SAS high school profile that is submitted to colleges along with every student application. The college counselors write specifically about AT courses in the recommendation letter of every student who has enrolled in one. And the SAS college counselors will be presenting about AT course development and implementation at upcoming conferences at which college representatives will be in the audience (starting this spring, they will be presenting at a conference in Singapore with universities from Australia (Sydney & Queensland), the UK (Oxford, Nottingham, Exeter, and Edinburgh), Japan (Nagoya), Hong Kong, Switzerland, and Ireland).

Students are also encouraged, where relevant, to write about interesting AT class projects in their college applications.

While AT courses are vetted by a committee and Yale-NUS consultants, how well received are AT courses by major US colleges?

During our R&D process, we spoke with over 100 college admissions representatives about our plans regarding advanced topic courses. These colleges support our development of rigorous AT opportunities as well as our focus on our desired student learning outcomes (character, collaboration, communication, content knowledge, creativity, critical thinking, and cultural competence). They reinforced that these are needed skills in college and beyond. The representatives also reinforced that the unique college-level opportunities offered by AT courses could help a student stand out in the application process.

Since the initial input stage, to ensure that universities understand the important role that advanced topic courses play at our school, SAS college counselors have taken additional steps to educate universities. We include information about our AT offerings in our school profile. Counselors spoke with every university representative that visited SAS this year (approximately 230), and will continue to do so in the coming years. Furthermore, when relevant, college counselors may include in recommendation letters information regarding AT courses for students who were enrolled in those courses.

Our approach to AT courses and AP exams is common in other schools we researched. We benchmarked many high-performing private and public schools that have implemented this approach with success. Examples of these schools include Phillips Academy, University of Chicago Laboratory School, San Francisco University School, Scarsdale, Sidwell Friends, Nueva School, and Crossroads School for Arts and Sciences, to name a few. In fact, Scarsdale (although a public school, it is similar in size and serves a similar demographic of high-achieving students), had similar concerns when they transitioned from AP to AT. They have ten years' worth of data that demonstrates that their college admission rates have held steady or increased in the time since they introduced the Advanced Topics curriculum.

What is the role of APs in the college admissions process?

Our advanced studies courses (AP and AT) are not required for admission into any US colleges. Colleges in the US view students in the context of their high school. This means that, when they review an application from an SAS student, they are looking at what courses SAS offers and comparing that to what courses the student has taken. The colleges are looking to see that the student has enrolled in appropriately challenging courses throughout high school.

Given this review process, while it is imperative that SAS offer a broad range of courses--including very challenging ones—it is not necessary for US college admissions that SAS offer any particular number of AP classes or AT classes. The SAS college counseling office will communicate the rigor of our advanced studies courses to colleges, which will allow college admissions representatives to understand each SAS applicant’s course selection in context.

Do students receive college credit for AP exams? What about AT courses?

Universities and colleges may give credit for AP exams on which a student scores a three, four, or five. There is no uniform practice for this, however, and we are seeing an increase in schools that do not award credit for AP exams. Rather, some colleges may choose to give a student advanced standing in a subject—though this practice is not universal. Universities do not typically have a similar mechanism for awarding credit for AT classes, but several AT courses we will offer will allow students to sit the AP exam or to earn college credit at Syracuse University. Policies and practices vary widely from college to college—and sometimes even from department to department—so students are encouraged to discuss this with their college counselor.

ATs, with their emphasis on real-world applications and student choice, are designed to prepare students for the kind of work that they are likely to be doing in the college classroom. We anticipate that AT courses in some colleges will assist in placement decisions for more advanced courses.

It is worth noting that a college’s choice of whether or not to award credit for work done in high school, AP or otherwise, has no bearing on the college admissions process.

Which universities are partnering with SAS for AT courses?

For courses being offered in 2017–18, our collaborative partners are professors at the universities listed in the table below.

Collaborative Partners for AT Courses


AT English: Writing Seminar

Yale-NUS College

AT Entrepreneurship

Venturewell Group, Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley, and the Stanford University Entrepreneurial Program

AT Urban Studies

Institute of Urban and Regional Planning, Mumbai and India

AT Post-Euclidean Geometry

Grand View University

AT Finite Math Modeling

Grand View University

AT Environmental Science & Field Research

Yale-NUS College

AT Computational Physics

National University of Singapore

AT Computer Science: Data Structures

University of Texas at Austin

AT Seminar

Rigor vetted through College Board

AT Research & Catalyst

Rigor vetted through College Board

AT Chinese Language: Chinese History

East China Normal University, Shanghai, China

AT Kinesiology

University of South Carolina

AT Performing Arts: Theatre

National Critics Institute, Eugene O'Neill Theatre Centre and Texas Tech University

AT Performing Arts: Music

University of California Los Angeles

AT Performing Arts: Dance

California State University at Long Beach and University of Oregon

Which external consultants will be auditing our AT courses? Will such audits be benchmarked with other schools? If yes, which schools will be part of the benchmarking?

Currently, our collaborative partners are our external consultants, as listed in the previous table. As part of our audit process, these partners review our syllabi, curriculum, and assessments, using first-year college course expectations for quality as the benchmark. They review samples of our students’ work, too, and feedback to us how the work compares to what they see in their institutions so that we can adjust accordingly.

In addition to benchmarking the quality of each AT course (syllabi, curriculum, and assessments) using first-year college course expectations, our collaborative partners also work with our AT Vetting Committee to audit each course every year through the following three-level process:

  • Each course reviews and revises (as necessary) their course syllabus, submitting it to the AT Vetting Committee and the respective strategic partner for review, feedback, and endorsement.
  • All students enrolled in AT courses complete an AT survey at the end of each semester in order for the AT Vetting Committee to assess if the overall AT Program is achieving the AT Criteria.
  • A sample of culminating assessments (research papers, projects, etc.) from each course are reviewed at the end of the year by the respective collaborative partner to ensure that our students are producing evidence of college level learning.

It is because we are so committed to ensuring quality that we’ve adopted this rigorous audit process for our AT courses. Our research showed us that many schools do not benchmark their AT courses in this way.

Are other high-performing high schools moving away from AP? If so, what have their experiences been in terms of university acceptance rates?

Yes. Many high performing schools that we visited are offering a reduced selection of AP courses or have dropped them altogether. Examples of these schools include Phillips Academy, University of Chicago Laboratory School, San Francisco University School, Scarsdale, Sidwell Friends, Nueva School, and Crossroads School for Arts and Sciences, to name a few.

Of this list, Scarsdale is most similar to SAS in terms of demographics. Although Scarsdale is a public school, it is similar in size and serves a similar demographic of high-achieving students, Scarsdale had similar concerns when they transitioned from AP to AT. They now have ten years' worth of data that demonstrates that their admission rates to selective schools have held steady or increased in the time since they introduced the advanced topics curriculum.

In addition, reference the ongoing work of the Independent Curriculum Group (ICG). The ICG is a consortium of public and independent secondary schools committed to the development of “high quality, mission-based, teacher-created curriculum and assessments.”

If colleges are aware of what ATs do, why are our seniors advised to write a pragraph in their applications to explain what ATs are?

Students are encouraged, where and when relevant, to write about interesting AT class projects in their college applications. Our school profile—which we send to every college to which an SAS student applies—takes care of explaining what ATs are and their level of rigor. And, because this program is new, our counselors additionally include a few lines about AT courses in their counselor letters.

Only students in AT Performing Arts were specifically asked to write something extra in their applications. We invited them to do something more because their projects are so highly individualized—the nature of that particular course is substantively different than our other AT offerings.

Many of our students may find that they can answer the Common Application personal statement prompts more thoroughly because of their meaningful AT experiences. Consider these Common Application essay prompts:

  • Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  • The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
  • Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
  • Describe a problem you've solved or a problem you'd like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma - anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
  • Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
  • Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?

The structure, design, and authentic assessment opportunities that are available in an AT course lend themselves to answering these sorts of questions. Similarly, students may find that such experiences in other project-based or independent learning courses may also be highlighted in the essay sections of their applications (e.g., Catalyst, Quest, independent study).

How will SAS prove that ATs will help our students in the admissions process?

We do not receive information back from admissions officers about what courses, grades or experiences specifically result in a student being accepted or denied a place at a university. However, we do have conversations with hundreds of admissions representatives every year, and we will be asking them about what role, if any, ATs have played in their admissions decisions for SAS. This will allow us to elicit feedback about how colleges view ATs in the admissions process. We will also continue to carefully track and monitor our students’ college admissions and acceptances.

How long have the ATs been offered at SAS and what has been the feedback in terms of university admission? Has there been an increase in number of AT students getting in?

Our first cohort of AT students graduated last year; they had the option to choose among five ATs courses.

It is important to reiterate that complete rationales for admissions decisions are never shared by universities. Establishing causality between any individual academic program and admissions outcomes is therefore not possible.

We can tell you that when our college counselors have spoken with hundreds of college admissions representatives visiting SAS, they have universally voiced support for our development of AT courses.

Questions related to College Admissions Outside the US

How are our advanced studies offerings factored into the admissions practices in various countries?

Each country treats colleges admissions differently, and it would be impossible to provide an exhaustive list of requirements around the world. Here is an overview of the admissions expectations of some of the countries to which SAS students most often apply.

The UK

Most universities in the UK require applicants to sit for 3 AP exams related to their intended field of study. Only three UK universities require or recommend that applicants sit for 5 AP exams related to their intended field of study. All SAS students will continue to have access to at least 7 AP exams, including exams required by most UK university programs. And, depending on which AP and AT courses students enrol in, they may actually have access to up to 14.

UK schools also require that applicants write a personal statement focused on the ways in which they have demonstrated familiarity with and commitment to their intended field of study. AT classes will often offer SAS applicants student-driven, project-based material about which to write in the personal statement section of their UK applications.


Most schools in Canada look exclusively at a student’s grades (primarily junior and senior year) in the application process. Advanced offerings are given little consideration by most Canadian universities, and AP scores are not required, though some Canadian university programs may require students to have taken a certain level of coursework (e.g., Pre-calculus for Business applicants).


Most schools in Australia look exclusively at a student’s SAT or ACT scores; they do not review SAS coursework or course rigor. A few Australian universities require 2 AP scores for certain programs.

Singapore and South Korea

National universities in Singapore and Korea do not require AP exam scores, but they like to see very high test scores. SAS students will have access to up to 7 AP classes, and students intending to study at Singaporean or Korean universities should plan to take as many AP exams on which they can reasonably do well. Singapore schools do not expect an SAS student to take a particular number of exams. The choice to take AT courses is not likely to impact students applying to schools in these countries.


Admissions offices in Japan read applications using a holistic model, so the impact of our advanced courses will be largely the same in Japan as it is in the US.

Will students planning to attend university in the UK have the opportunity to sit for the AP exams needed to gain entrance?

Yes. We take great care when determining which courses are added and removed from our course offerings, and we consider how those interested in the UK universities will be affected. For students inclined towards UK schools, we’ve done our homework. College admissions officers for the UK have made it clear to us that most UK universities want between three and five AP scores—not AP credits—but scores.

To further ensure that our UK applicants are competitive, we have reviewed transcripts of SAS students who, over the last three years, were admitted to two of the most selective UK colleges, Oxford and Cambridge. We aligned these students' AP course selections with our current and future AP offerings and available AP examinations. We found that students would still have access to an equivalent number of relevant AP examinations. This calculation was also done with the AP cap of seven year-long-equivalent credits in mind (cap to begin with the Class of 2021) with the same positive result. In summary, UK-bound students will continue to have ample opportunities to take AP exams that meet their admission needs.

Are AT courses still valuable for a student who intends to go to college in the UK?

Yes. UK applications are very course-specific; students apply directly to a field of study rather than a broad program such as liberal arts or the sciences. In addition to a review of standardized test scores, students must include a personal statement as part of their application. The personal statement requires that students articulate why they are well-prepared and knowledgeable in their intended field of study. Taking specific, rigorous, unique AT courses can help students speak to their preparedness and provide an advantage in the application process. AT courses may also provide a stronger recommendation letter as counselors will be able to speak to a student’s pursuit of a particular area of study.

Questions about GPA Weighting

Which courses receive an increased GPA weighting at SAS?

Courses that have been created with external university expertise and participate in a comprehensive audit process receive the GPA weighting increase on our transcripts. Our advanced studies courses—both AT and AP—meet this criteria and receive the GPA weighting increase.

Why do some AP courses receive a 0.25 GPA weighting increase at SAS while other AP courses receive a 0.5 increase?

The College Board has established that certain AP courses are able to be taught in a semester and therefore are weighted as 0.25 weighting. Other AP courses are deemed by the College Board as a year’s worth of material and are weighted at 0.5. SAS has several of the semester courses that are being taught over an entire year. We made the credit adjustment reflected in this year’s program planning guide to align ourselves with the College Board.

Which US colleges give AT courses a GPA "bump"?

AT and AP courses are awarded identical GPA bumps (0.5, in most cases) on the SAS transcript.

All universities that accept the GPA on the SAS transcript and do not recalculate it will give AT courses a GPA bump (because that is part of how the SAS GPA is calculated). These schools include Bentley University, Boston College, Cornell University, Fordham University, Middlebury College, New York University, Northwestern University, Smith College, Tufts University, Wellesley College, and many others.

It is impossible to produce an exhaustive list because there are so many US colleges, and most do not report the way in which they calculate GPAs. Most US colleges that recalculate GPAs are likely to give AT courses a GPA bump, because we have told colleges that we award similar weights to AT and AP courses.

To what degree do GPA differences factor into admissions decisions at various universities to which our students apply?

Most US colleges read applications holistically, meaning that they take many different factors of an applicant’s profile into account when making admissions decisions. There is no one standard practice for how colleges look at GPAs, and every student’s file is reviewed individually. So it is not possible to know in any given instance how a small GPA difference will affect an admissions outcome.

Why don't some rigorous courses like AT Multivariable Calculus and AT Globalization receive increased GPA weighting?

Only courses that have been created with external university expertise and participate in a comprehensive audit process receive a GPA weighting increase at SAS. The College Board develops their courses with university partners and vets courses through an intensive audit process. Our AT courses have the same type of external partners, are subject to a similarly intensive audit process, and are required to meet additional criteria such as the integration of our desired student learning outcomes.

The AT Multivariable Calculus & Linear Algebra and the AT Globalization courses offered at SAS are rigorous, high-quality courses. Because neither meet the criteria set by the College Board or the criteria set by our internal advanced topic audit process, they do not receive an increased GPA weighting at SAS.

We will continue to give consideration to how these courses can be brought into alignment with these important criteria and audit processes. In the meantime, we indicate to colleges that these are among our most demanding academic courses by giving them honors designations and highlighting them with asterisks on our transcripts.

Which SAS courses get increased GPA weighting in the college admissions process?

The answer is that it depends. There are literally thousands of colleges worldwide, each with their own process for calculating course weight and rigor. Some colleges will recalculate the GPA weighting we give to Advanced Topic and Advanced Placement courses, while others will not. Some, like UK universities, primarily consider standardized exam scores in their calculations. Counselors will work with each student to develop a course of study that supports their post-secondary plans.

Questions related to Academic and Course Planning

The new AT subjects are exciting and impressive in achieving the DSLOs. For a student with limited time and other subjects on their plate, how do they cope in healthy ways?

Student balance is important and something we care a lot about. One of our pillars at SAS is extraordinary care, and we take it to heart. We want students to feel known, cared for, connected to our school--and to achieve a healthy balance of work and play in their lives. Our counselors meet with our students to choose and recommend course loads that are challenging, but also allow the time and room for our students to explore interests and extracurriculars. Just as our counselors encourage students to not overload on AP courses and to only pursue those that truly interest them, they do the same with our ATs. If at any point you are worried that your student is not coping in healthy ways, please reach out; let your student’s advisor, teachers, or counselor know.

How many advanced studies courses does my child need to take?

Students do not need to take any AP or AT courses to graduate from SAS. Students may take as many AT courses as they wish, assuming that they meet the prerequisites, but there is no fixed number that they need or should take. Beginning with the class of 2021, students may take up to 7 credits of AP.

For US colleges, the important thing is to take as many high-level courses in which a student can reasonably do well—and that rigor may be satisfied by either AT or AP courses. Each student’s course choices will be different based on their individual areas of interest and skills.

A student who plans to apply almost exclusively to UK universities would likely consider courses that support his or her interests and also provide access to Advanced Placement exams. For a student applying primarily to US colleges, this is less of a concern. Families still need to work closely with college counselors to plan their courses according to future plans.

Our advice is that every student should aim to choose courses of interest. Colleges want to know that a student has taken on intellectually challenging courses. In some instances, if those courses are in line with one’s intended major, this is even better. Many colleges also want to see that a student has an interesting profile, which may mean taking classes that are different from those taken by his or her peers. College counselors will work with each student to come up with a course of study that suits the student’s aspirations and postsecondary desires.

How many advanced studies courses should my child take?

We strongly believe that any student who meets the prerequisites for an advanced studies course is prepared to succeed in and learn from the course. This applies to readiness for individual courses. This does not speak to whether a student is ready to take multiple advanced studies courses. Families and students should always consult with their counselors when building an overall program of study. Our counselors are always available to speak with families during course registration time, and welcome these conversations.

Prerequisites for all advanced studies courses are described in detail in the program planning guide. Both AP and AT courses are both designed to be rigorous and college-level. The work in AT courses, in some instances, might look different than the work in an AP course because where APs often assess content knowledge and critical thinking, AT courses are purpose-built to ask students to also communicate, collaborate, be creative and demonstrate their ability to think across cultures.

Can AT courses be used to fulfill department credit requirements, or are they elective courses?

Yes, many AT courses may be used to satisfy department-specific graduation requirements. Please see the program planning guide for more details.

Are our students prepared for the challenges they will face in advanced studies courses?

We strongly believe that any student who meets the prerequisites for an AT or AP course is prepared to succeed in and learn from the course. This applies to readiness for individual courses.

This does not speak to whether a student is ready to take multiple advanced studies courses. Families and students should always consult with their counselors when building an overall program of study.

Which students can take an AT course?

Prerequisites for all Advanced Topic courses are described in detail in the program planning guide. For AT courses that parallel AP courses being phased out, prerequisites are equivalent. This means the courses should be equally accessible to students.

How do I know which AT courses are best for my child?

AT courses ask students to tackle a range of skills that go far beyond the text, including real-world problem solving, project-based learning, critical thinking, design thinking, and independent work. These are exactly the skills that students will need in college and beyond, so many students will be well served by AT courses.

Course selection is a highly individualized process, and SAS is committed to providing families with the resources necessary for making good decisions. Freshmen work with their personal academic counselors (PAC) on choosing the sophomore year courses that are most appropriate for them. Sophomores and juniors may opt to work with their PAC counselor or their college counselor as they choose their classes.

The main driver of course selection should be student interest—so if a student is interested in taking a particular AT course and is likely to do well in it, we would generally encourage the student to take the course.

Is there an Advanced Topics credit limit?

No. Students may take as many Advanced Topics courses as they wish provided they meet the prerequisites and that this is in the student’s best interests as judged by the student, parents, and counselors.

With diverse outcomes for AT course takers, do we standardize grading rubrics? And, do we grade AT class on a curve?

Just as every AP course has a set of rubrics and scoring guides, our AT courses develop assessments and scoring criteria with our university partners. As previously mentioned, we annually audit our AT courses by sharing assessments and a sampling of student work with our university partners to ensure rigor. We have also developed some common rubrics for our desired student learning outcomes that our AT teachers use to develop their assessment criteria.

Finally, just like our AP courses, AT classes are not graded on a curve. In both cases, we use a standards-based approach for AP and AT course grades that appear on an SAS transcript. External AP exams, on the other hand, are often graded on a curve.

How do students gain the fundamental knowledge to do well in application in AT?

We know that students needs to know content in order to apply content. That’s why one of our desired student learning outcomes is content knowledge. In an AT course, our faculty work with students to build appropriate content knowledge so that students are able to apply it. We believe in content and skills. AT courses provide us with the opportunity to teach only the most relevant content so that students can spend more time on the application of that content in real world and project-based ways.

STEM students may need more content knowledge (i.e., AP classes). Can we bring back the AP Math and Physics courses that the school plans to discontinue soon?

As mentioned in the previous question, content knowledge is still one of our DSLOs; we know that kids need to know content in order to be able to apply it.

For instance, in terms of core knowledge, AT Computational Physics covers all but two shorter physics units. This allows our faculty members more time to work with students to ensure that students not only know the core content, but also understand the larger concepts surrounding the knowledge by providing time to apply that understanding through lab work and computer modelling opportunities.

We are not phasing out any AP math courses. We are taking our year-long AP Calculus BC/Multivariable Calculus course and dividing it into two semester-length courses, but all math APs are still being offered.

Questions related to Catalyst and AP Capstone

In what ways can a student satisfy the Catalyst requirement?

There are three ways that students can fulfill their Catalyst graduation requirement. The most common way for students to participate in Catalyst is by taking it as a stand-alone semester course during the second semester of junior year, first semester of senior year, or second semester of senior year. Alternatively, students can satisfy the requirement by successfully completing the AT Seminar and AT Research & Catalyst courses. Finally, students involved in our SAS Quest program fulfill their Catalyst requirement as part of the Quest culminating project.

When should students take the SAS Catalyst Project?

We recommend that students take the SAS Catalyst project during the second semester of junior year or first semester of senior year. The learning gained in a student’s personalized Catalyst project can be of high value during the college admissions process. However, second semester senior year is a viable option for students as well.

By exception, a first semester junior may be allowed to participate in the course with special permission from the Center of Innovation coordinator.

What is the AP Capstone Diploma?

The AP Capstone Diploma program is the College Board’s diploma, similar to the IB Diploma program. To receive the AP Capstone Diploma, students must receive a three or higher on the AP Seminar exam, AP Research exam, and four additional AP exams. Successfully completing both the AT Seminar and AT Research & Catalyst courses will prepare students for the AP Seminar and AP Research exams respectively. Students can choose their four additional AP exams by enrolling in AP courses or in those AT courses where sitting a related AP exam is an option (e.g., AT Computational Physics and AT Environmental Science & Field Research).

Can I still earn an AP Capstone Diploma with the remaining AP courses SAS offers?

Yes. The College Board requires Capstone students to earn scores of three or higher on the AP Seminar and AP Research exams as well as on four additional AP exams. There will continue to be ample AP options in a variety of subject areas for students to pursue.

As all AT classes have culminating projects, why is the Catalyst Project required?

We were intentional in our development of the Catalyst course to not make it an advanced topic linked to a specific curricular area that is teacher directed. In doing so, it truly allows students to identify their own interests and learning goals. As we implement our strategic plan across the school, this is consistent with how SAS will be implementing projects at all grade levels. There will be some projects that are part of the core curriculum, and there will be opportunities in each division for students to pursue their own interests. That being said, one of our AT courses does count as a student’s Catalyst requirement - specifically the AT Research & Catalyst course.

If students enrol in ATs that require projects or research, time is built within the classroom and course of study for students to succeed. Teachers provide scaffolds and check in dates, provide formative feedback and work within their professional learning community teams to ensure that they know where students are on their journey.

This does not speak to whether a student is ready to take multiple advanced studies courses in addition to Catalyst. Families and students should always consult with their counselors when building an overall program of study.

Catalyst and Advanced Topics seem similar to what is offered in the IB program. Is SAS considering adopting the IB program?

The International Baccalaureate (IB) program is a strong program, but SAS is not considering IB. Much like College Board does with Advanced Placement courses, the IB program is overseen by a regulating body and has a prescribed curriculum that is audited yearly. The limits of the IB program are similar to the limits of an AP program as external assessments often dictate a school’s schedule, curriculum and how students spend their instructional time. Further, when we analyzed IB we found it to be even less flexible than the AP program, and inconsistent with our DSLOs.

General Questions about the Program Planning Guide

What will the advanced-level mathematics course sequence look like in the future?

In 2018-19, SAS will offer the current AP Calculus BC/Multivariable course and the same three advanced-level courses offered in 2017-18: Multivariable Calculus/Linear Algebra, AT Post-Euclidian Geometry, and AT Finite Math Modeling. In this year, we will share details about our semester-long AP Calculus BC and the semester-long honors Multivariable Calculus and honors Linear Algebra courses. These semester-long courses will be available the following year.

In 2019-20, SAS will offer semester-long AP Calculus BC to follow the year-long AP Calculus AB course, as well as semester-long Honors Multivariable Calculus, semester-long Honors Linear Algebra, AT Post-Euclidian Geometry, and AT Finite Math Modeling. Students will now have greater access to advanced-level math courses as well as additional flexibility and choices.

By engaging in this work over the next few years, we are very excited that students will have the following advanced-level math pathways available to them:



AP Calculus AB
AP Calculus BC
AP Calculus BC/Multivariablen/a
Multivariable Calculus/Linear Algebran/an/a
AP Calculus BC
(post-AB semester-length version)
Multivariable Calculus
(semester-length version)
Linear Algebra
(semester-length version)
AP Post Euclidian Geometry
(semester-length course)
AT Finite Math Modeling
(semester-length course)



*semester-length course

Will more AT courses be added in the arts or in computer science?

There are a total of four advanced studies courses (3 AP and 1 AT) currently being offered in the arts. These courses are AP Studio Art Drawing, AP Studio Art 2D, AP Studio Art 3D; AT Performing Arts Dance, Music and/or Theater.

There are two advanced studies courses (1 AP and 1 AT) currently being offered in computer science. These are AP Computer Science and AT Computer Science: Data Structures.

At this time, we are not seeing a need for additional AT courses in the arts. We are assessing the need for additional AT courses in computer science and other STEM areas.

While no additional computer science ATs will be offered in 2018–19, we are looking at what learning opportunities might be available for students who have completed AT Computer Science: Data Structures.

We will continue to re-evaluate on a regular basis.

How does the AT Seminar and AT Research and Catalyst differ from the last year's AP Seminar and AP Research?

First, thank you for your excellent feedback last year. On the heels of our first AP Research papers and presentations, many of you noted that the research processes utilized and the personalized nature of the research was of a calibre that should fulfill the Catalyst requirement. We agree and we’re excited to offer the AP Capstone as one of three ways students can fulfil their Catalyst graduation requirement.

What will remain the same is that our students will continue to submit their work to the College Board for AP credit. Our AT Seminar students will still be assessed through their course performance tasks and end-of-course exam; our AT Research & Catalyst students will submit their academic paper and presentation with oral defence.

One element of the Catalyst that was not in last year’s AP Capstone was the explicit teaching and assessment of essential skills we know are necessary for our students’ futures--skills such as collaboration, creativity, cultural competence, and reflection. We’ve added these explicit skills to the existing AP Seminar and AP Research courses so that they are fully aligned with the Catalyst curriculum. In doing so, we’ve changed the name of the course to signal to our college admissions colleagues that our students are going above and beyond the prescribed set of skills articulated by the College Board.

What does this mean for our students? It means that after the AP portion of AT Seminar curriculum is complete in early May, our students will have a month to generate ideas for their research year, explore their interests, and receive feedback. After the AP portion of AT Research & Catalyst is complete, our students will take the rest of May to reflect on their learning and take action on their research.

Questions about AT Computational Physics

How much independent study will be required to prep for the AP exam?

As many of you heard during our March parent coffee, our physics faculty is excited about our AT Computational Physics course. Based on feedback from professors currently teaching under graduates, and our SAS alumni who have entered engineering and the sciences at the university level, our physics faculty have created an extraordinary course that closely reflect the skills and concepts needed to succeed at the university level. Specifically, this means designing an introductory AT physics offering that includes the use of mathematical models and coding to test physics hypotheses. The first three quarters of the year will be dedicated to learning the introductory conceptual ideas of classical mechanics as well as an introduction to coding. Students will learn physics theory, perform experiments and compare their experimental results to the data predicted via modeling. The last quarter of the year will be dedicated to individualized, student-initiated and designed advanced projects using and applying the physics and computer generated data.

While students will be learning many of the concepts that were taught in the traditional AP Physics 1 class, to be fully prepared to sit the AP Physics 1 exam, students will need to complete a two-to-three week self-study process for two units on the exam. Students will have access to SAS-designed self-study modules, and our physics faculty can provide study guidance to allow students to be ready for the AP exam.

Will SAS be providing the AP Physics 1 exam or will students have to take the AP tests in an outside venue?

The exam will be conducted in SAS.

Will a mock exam be offered?

We are not planning to offer a timed mock exam for students enrolled in AT Computational Physics. Exams from previous years will be available for students to practice on their own time, however.

Questions about AT Performing Arts

For a student who is interested in music, but not dance or theater, does the AT Performing Arts course still apply? How does the course work if a student is interested in only one of these disciplines?

One of the main tenants of AT Performing Arts is collaboration between the arts. A goal is to learn the vocabulary and strengths of each discipline for the express purpose of strengthening and adding depth to our own art form. While AT students are not expected to become experts in the other disciplines they are expected to be open to learning about them. The strength and inherent strength of this course is the opportunity to learn from each other. The final performances will be in the discipline that each student signed up for.

Is AT Performing Arts only for students who wish to pursue performing arts professionally?

Absolutely not! Advanced Topic Performing Arts is open to any student who wishes to further their love of the performing arts while remaining as an essential team member in our highest-level ensemble courses. This year, for instance, we have AT Performing Arts students who aspire to be diplomats in the foreign service, engineers, teachers, and lawyers.

Questions about AT Kinesiology

My child is interested in medical school, loves anatomy and science, but dislikes PE. Would she enjoy this AT course?

Yes! Our AT Kinesiology course is an excellent course for students wanting to learn more about how the human body moves. While we have many students taking the course who love PE, there are just as many who are interested in the science of movement aspect that is covered in this course.

Are you considering adding AT courses geared towards students interested in medical school?

While at this time we’re not looking to add courses specifically designed for students interested in medical school, we do offer a combination of courses that students who are interested in pursuing the life sciences may find meaningful. These courses include AP Biology, Biotechnology, AP Chemistry, AT Kinesiology and Anatomy & Physiology.

Questions related to Evaluating the Advanced Studies Program

How do you evaluate teachers and their capabilities to deliver an advanced studies course? How do you ensure the quality and rigor of each teacher is upheld, especially if there are several sections of a course?

To ensure that our advanced studies courses are available year over year, we build capacity within our faculty should one of our advanced studies faculty move on from SAS. Professional learning community (PLC) teams exist for our advanced studies courses. In a few instances, courses are co-taught. The PLC framework ensures that students receive individual attention as teachers meet weekly to discuss where students are and what supports or extensions they need. PLC team plan and calibrate together, too.

We ensure that our teachers are delivering a rigorous advanced studies course through our annual auditing process for all AT and AP courses. For ATs, teachers submit their assessments and accompanying student work to our strategic partners or to the College Board. Our partners audit our assessments and the student work to ensure that we are delivering on college-level rigor, and provide feedback to our teachers. Similarly, our AP teachers have their syllabi audited every year by the College Board and we receive exam score reports to help us shape our practice.

As with every course offered at SAS, we also survey students for their feedback and teachers are evaluated by their supervising administrator as part of our professional growth and evaluation process.

Should students or families have concerns about an approach being taken in class, we encourage students to “go to the source” and speak with their teachers.

In terms of class sizes, we have a target of 22 students per class for all courses that we offer at SAS: AP, AT or otherwise.

Given all of the changes occurring in the academic program, how are you evaluating your program's success, specifically with regards to college admission results?

As an open admission school, SAS has a broad range of students, from those who come to the college counseling office in junior year ready with long lists of highly selective schools to those who have only vague notions about what they might want to study or where they might want to go. Some of our students are extremely ambitious; others see college as a nebulous concept and express few aspirations beyond graduation. The role of the SAS college counselors is to guide all students, with their many different needs and interests, through a process that helps them to find colleges and universities at which they will be successful.

When evaluating a high school’s admissions to highly selective universities, it is important to consider (1) acceptance rates, rather than numbers, (2) acceptance rates over a multi-year period, rather than in any one single year, and (3) acceptance rates at a range of colleges, rather than any one single college. This is important because there can be great variability in the composition of one particular class applying to one particular college, and in one particular admission office’s decision-making in one particular year.

If we look at the broad range of highly selective universities, SAS has been extremely successful over time when looked at in comparison to those colleges’ overall acceptance rates. It is difficult to make direct comparisons to the acceptance rates of individual high schools in Singapore, because institutions generally do not share their college acceptance data and it is also not practical to compare one high school directly to another when the two have very different compositions.

We would emphasize the importance of considering acceptance rates rather than numbers. Some of our competitor schools in Singapore have much larger senior classes—and, therefore, larger applicant and acceptance pools.

At least two other high schools in Singapore also participate in the Davis Scholars program, a program that educates students from around the world (most of whom are from underserved backgrounds). Some highly selective colleges may find that these unique high school students, who come from a variety of countries, ethnicities, and socioeconomic backgrounds, may better meet the colleges’ institutional priorities in the admissions process. Some highly selective colleges also have chosen to be Davis Scholars Partner Institutions, which means that they have a commitment to admit Davis Scholars students. This commitment increases the likelihood that a high school with Davis Scholars partnerships will see higher acceptance rates at those partnership colleges.

How is the college counseling office being evaluated?

SAS now has a stand-alone college counseling office in response to a research and development team’s finding that “the environment for students is changing rapidly, college admission is increasingly competitive, the social/emotional needs of students are complicated and intensifying, and schools are under enormous pressure to prepare students in this shifting and intense environment.” The new college counseling model allows us to increase the personal attention that we provide to each family.

As we develop our new college counseling program, we are constantly looking for ways to improve our services. Along with this comes the need to evaluate our work. What does excellence look like? We can review our acceptance and matriculation data – and we do – but those numbers alone cannot capture the student and family experience.

College counselors around the world have long acknowledged the difficulty of assessing the quality of college counseling programs. There is no one standard that would help us establish best practices, and data is often complicated and nuanced. Admission data is a reflection of many factors: four years of high school education, our students’ experiences, SAS’s reputation, recommendations, and any number of components that may be out of our control. We are also working with hundreds of individual students with individual talents and desires. But we continue to have robust conversations about what good assessment looks like.

The college counselors are committed to collecting and analyzing data and other information to improve. Several assessment methods are currently in place to evaluate the work of the office. The college counselors ask parents and students to complete surveys at the end of each college admissions season so that families have a chance to reflect on their experiences with the college counseling office. The college counseling office also analyzes its individual college counselors’ “reach,” “possible,” and “likely” predictions for college admission for the seniors, looking at their assessments against the actual results. Other means of evaluation either currently in place or under discussion include tracking acceptance rates in groups over a three-year period, coordinating alumni surveys, tracking senior choices (ensuring that each senior has options), reviewing transfer data, and engaging in a peer review audit system.