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What all college admissions application readers want to see is that you tried your best given the set of circumstances you have at no fault of your own. You didn't pick your name, religion, parents, economic status, or zip code. Therefore the HS school you are graduating are "cards you are dealt with" in life and you have to play them as best as possible. Applying to colleges is NOT a level playing field.
If we stick to the card game analogy lets say its like poker. Not everyone at the table has the same cards to play with. The wealthy entitled players get to go to private prep schools with top PhD teachers and get all the resources they can to help them navigate the college process and succeed in college. Some of the top boarding schools don't even bother with APs/IBs because they have their own higher standard of college equivalent classes to offer. Schools like Phillips Exeter Academy (PEA) and Phillips Andover (PA) each offer like 450 HS courses (eg. ancient Greek mythology) and have a library with 1 million volumes. So when Yale or Harvard gets an application from an upper (upper-class-student like a 11th/12th grader versus lowers) they already know that there will be zero AP or IB classes on their transcripts. Nevertheless, since these are super smart kids, like 95% submit AP scores to the Ivys because they can all self-study on top of taking a rigorous load. Plus, it helps if mom and day basically give you a blank check to sign up for whatever tutoring or online support you need to get through testing hurdles. Most of these schools also have at least 10 college counselors on staff, all who have ties to the elite colleges so they know day by day what's changing in the college admissions process. Some might say they already know from the 10 years of stats and relationships with the Ivys, how many students they should be applying to each college. So say this cycle, if Harvard says it's going to be a tight year, we can probably take like 5 Exeter and 6 Andovers, then the counselors limit the number of students who can apply to those schools. Let's say for argument the number is 15 out of 300. That means it kind of sucks for the other 285 students at those schools because they know they are not the preferential top choices. So entitlement has a double-edged sword. Yes, you get all the resources and support. But it's your spot to lose and your sword to die on so to speak.
Therefore, like these students, you too can self-study for the AP exam. You can take AP prep courses online and there are different kinds. Some are through online high schools that you have to pay full course tuition to get access to the course for the whole year or 1/2 year if it is like AP MicroEcon. And contrary to some people's opinion you can take an AP class on edx.org where there are at least 15 to 20 AP classes taught by Professors at schools like Harvard, MIT, Davidson, and ASU, etc. These classes are legit and take like 10-15 weeks and require a time commitment of 3-5 hours a week. And you should sign up for the certificate because it gives you full access to the class material, the tests and blog for a full year. Unlike HS they are intended to prep you only cover the material on the test and self-study at your pace to pass. Plus they are inexpensive like $50 to $100 versus paying upwards of $1000-$3500 to a Private HS. per course. There is not much cost difference than doing edx.org than buying all the books and self-studying.
Note, you must sign up for your AP exams now. Not in 6 months from now. But like this month. So please log into the college board collegeboad.org and do your research on what AP exams you want to take and then you have to pre-pay the test fee now for next May's test in 2021. All HS kids have to bear the burden of paying upfront for AP exams and if you sign up for 4 or 5 that could be a couple of hundred dollars of expense.
I hope you appreciate the detailed answer because it gives you some insight into the best-prepared students which is not a topic of conversation 99% of high school students are aware of.
Best of luck on your decision to self-study APs. R
Admission officers will know that your high school didn't provide advanced classes. They won't put you at a disadvantage for something you can't control. What you can do, however, is take edX courses or self study some AP classes(not too late as a senior) to show colleges that you took initiative to take advanced courses. You can also write in the additional information section that your high school didn't provide advanced classes.
Probably not. Colleges consider your accomplishments in context with the environment you complete them in. This is a great example. Colleges won't penalize you for not taking AP courses if there are no APs for you to take. I'd emphasize other parts of your application, like your ECs. You should definitely consider taking whatever advanced classes your school offers even if they're not honors or AP.
So I keep answering similiar questions to this so this answer is copy n pasted. If it isn’t super specific please comment so I can clarify as I’d be glad to help you.
All rigor is evaluated in context if you have 4 APs at a school that offers 4 APs your golden. If your school offers 25 APs and you take 5 APs the 4/4 is more impressive despite the 5/25 taking more AP classes. Where as 0/0 is totally acceptable.
If your school has no AP classes as long as you take as many challenging courses as possible such as Honors you should be in decent shape but if no honors are available you are zero out of zero which is effectively a N/A (not applicable) so your rigor would not matter as schools will see you didn’t get the opportunity.
Here’s a video (start at 5:15ish) and UMich has a 22% admit rate so it is ultra selective so I’d argue it is reflective of the selective admission process.
TL DR; Everything is in context as long as you challenge your self there will be no penalty