Advanced Studies FAQs

Our high school portal has a more comprehensive version of this FAQs, which includes questions from our PTA coffees and outreach events. Livestream videos from our coffees are also available here.

General Questions about Advanced Studies

What are advanced studies offerings?

Advanced Topic (AT) courses and Advanced Placement (AP) courses together form Singapore American School’s advanced studies offerings.

What is an AT course?

Advanced Topic courses are designed in conjunction with external university/industry partners to be highly engaging, relevant, and focused on skills we know students will need to be successful in the future. 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.

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 are no AP options in physical education or the performing arts, and there are only two choices in English.

Through our program of studies, we are providing experiences for our students that they are not likely to get anywhere else in the world. These experiences will help to (a) give our students the skills they will need in the future and (b) stand out in the college admissions process.

What is the most compelling explanation for moving away from AP that we found in our research?

Our institutional promise is to make sure that our students are highly competitive for college, and that they have well developed skills once they get to college, and beyond. The world of college admissions and Advanced Placement is changing rapidly and we found this over and over again in our research. The head of school letter by Trinity School in NY, who is eliminating their AP program, provides a great summary of compelling reasons that high performing schools are moving away from Advanced Placement including the history of the AP and how its use has changed.

Is SAS the only school that is moving away from AP courses or placing limits on them?

No. In our research, we found that many schools had decided that the AP program did not meet their students’ needs. Some of these schools are members of the Independent Curriculum Group (ICG). Membership in the ICG can be found here. While we will maintain a hybrid approach that includes both AT and AP courses, we noted that other high-performing independent schools have chosen to eliminate all AP courses in favor of other advanced offerings.

Which colleges and high schools did you consult?

A list of the university representatives with whom we conferred, innovative schools we visited, and community resources we referenced can be found here. This is not an exhaustive list as we continue to dialogue with additional colleges and secondary schools to inform our work.

What high school served as an exemplar for SAS as we envisioned and developed AT courses?

Scarsdale High School is an exemplary high school with a large, high-performing student body much like ours. When their school made the decision to transition from AP to AT, their community similarly asked questions about the potential effects on student learning and on college admission. Scarsdale High School now has approximately ten years worth of data that demonstrates that their college admission rates have held steady or improved in the time since they introduced their Advanced Topics curriculum.

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

The short answer is that every college admissions representative we have talked to has informed us that if a school like SAS states that a course is at college level, the course is viewed as such. AT-type courses are common in high-performing schools in the United States, so our transition to an advanced studies program is not new to colleges. To ensure our AT courses are truly college-level and are of exceptional quality, we have implemented an audit process that goes beyond what most other schools with similar programs currently have in place. Our audit process includes:

  • obtaining feedback annually from students who are enrolled in AT courses,
  • obtaining feedback from college representatives who visit the school,
  • requiring that all new AT courses undergo extensive vetting by strategic partners, college admissions officers, college counselors, and SAS administration before they are offered,
  • reviewing course syllabi and major assessments on an annual basis to ensure fidelity to our AT criteria,
  • and involving university/industry strategic partners in assessing rigor through the evaluation of the quality of SAS student work.

How many advanced studies courses (both AP and AT) will be available in the future?

We are currently projecting that by 2019 there will be approximately 20+ AP courses with 25 AP exams offered and approximately 20 AT courses. Because of how the course offerings are configured, students will be able to sit up to 14 exams depending upon course selection choices.

Further, 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?

We are proud to offer over 180 courses at the high school, and we know this is a reasonable carrying capacity for a school with 1200 students. So that we can ensure that all courses the high school offers are of high quality, our standard protocol is to eliminate a course for every course we add to the Program Planning Guide. This is a common practice among high schools with large, complex academic programs like ours. When teachers have to teach too many different courses, this limits their ability to focus and to prepare thoroughly.

With particular regard to AP courses that have been eliminated, the criteria used to select these courses for phase out included:

  • lack of alignment to our desired student learning outcomes and vision of cultivating exceptional thinkers,
  • lack of student interest and sign-up (e.g., AP European History, AP Music Composition, and AP Art History),
  • ensuring that we are adequately supporting courses at all academic levels, including college-preparatory courses and courses that provide academic support to students with various learning needs.

Which AP courses are being phased out?

The AP courses 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. The prerequisites for these new AT courses are the same as those for the AP courses being phased out. This ensures that the AT courses will be at least as accessible to students. We look forward to sharing more about these AT courses during the 2018-19 school year.

Can AT courses help prepare students for AP exams?

It depends. Some Advanced Topic courses are closely aligned to specific AP exams. In these instances, we are proud to provide students with access to AT courses that both focus on high-value skills and allow a student to sit the AP exam with limited (or no) self-study.

Currently, the AP Environmental Science, AP Seminar, and AP Research exams are each available to students who have taken specific AT course options. For these particular AP exams, students are not required to self-study.

After the 2018-19 school year, the AP Physics 1 and AP Literature courses will no longer be offered in their current form. However, their associated AP exams will still be available to AT Computational Physics and AT Literary Studies students who engage in some self-study.

It should be noted that our approach to AT courses and AP exams is common in other schools we researched. 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.

Questions related to AP Credit Limit

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

SAS announced in 2014 that we would be limiting the amount of AP credits a student could earn at SAS. Beginning with the Graduating Class of 2021 (this year’s 9th-grade students), SAS students may earn up to seven year-long-equivalent AP credits during their high school careers. Our AP credit limit ensures three things:

  1. Readiness for 21st century
    The limit supports students to participate in courses and activities that focus on vital, future-ready skills associated with our desired student learning outcomes: collaboration, character, critical thinking, content knowledge, cultural competence, creativity and communication.
     
  2. College competitiveness
    Universities are seeking students who are academically strong in a traditional sense (ACT, SAT, AP) but are also “pointy,” unique and interesting. The situation is described by Sean Logan, Director of College Counseling at Phillips Academy in Andover in this article. We heard stories like his over and over during our research. Limiting AP courses allows students to differentiate themselves in interesting ways.
     
  3. An end to the “arms race” of AP
    Not one college admissions representative told us that a limit on AP credits would negatively impact our students. In fact, many stated that taking large amounts of AP may inhibit a student’s ability to involve themselves in courses and activities that help them stand out in the college admissions process. UK representatives stated that as long as students have ample access to standardized examinations, there would be no negative impact.

Questions related to College Admissions

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.

Colleges and universities evaluate the rigor of a student’s academic program in the context of what is offered by his or her high school. In other words, when we communicate via our school profile that ATs are college-level, admissions officers acknowledge and accept this. Further, when we explain that our 2021 graduates may earn only seven year-long-equivalent AP credits, they understand this is our high school’s context and evaluate applications from SAS students within this context.

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 standardized scores.

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

Are AT courses a new phenomenon?

No. Independent schools (and some public schools) in the US have been offering AT-like courses for decades now. 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 may also write specifically about AT courses in students’ recommendation letters.

Students are also encouraged, where relevant, to write about interesting AT class projects in their college applications. For example, when a student writes in their college essay about co-authoring a book in AT Writing Workshop & Publication, it is likely more interesting to an admissions rep than the student stating they received a five on their AP Literature exam.

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.

What is the role of AP courses 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. Colleges are looking to see that a student has enrolled in appropriately challenging courses throughout high school and has done well in them.

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.

Will students planning to attend a university in the UK have the opportunity to sit for 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. Depending upon course selection choices, students can access up to fourteen AP exams at SAS.

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 credit limit 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. Because AT courses target application of concepts at a high level, they provide great opportunities for students to set themselves apart in the statements or in college interviews. 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.

Need more Information?

Our high school portal has a more comprehensive version of this FAQs, which includes questions from our PTA coffees and outreach events. Livestream videos from our coffees are also available here.