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This article is a part of a data-driven series in which The Michigan Daily obtained records on the top 301 schools by number of applications to the University of Michigan for the Fall 2019 freshman class through a public records request. These data are not representative of the entire freshman class, nor are the data about the schools a perfect aggregate representation of all students who attend the University.
As one of the most prestigious public universities in the United States, the University of Michigan attracts high-achieving high school students. This includes students who took Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate classes — walking around campus, it can be hard to find a U-M student who didn’t take at least one college-level course in high school.
The Advanced Placement Program was founded in 1952 and is the most popular way students receive college credit for high school courses. The AP Program, run by the nonprofit organization The College Board, offers 38 courses and exams to more than one million students each year.
The International Baccalaureate programs were founded in 1975, only recently growing in gaining popularity in the U.S. However, schools that offer IB were overrepresented in the 301 schools with the greatest number of applications to the University in 2019. 41 of those 301 schools offered IB (13.6%), a rate 11% higher than the national average.
The Daily’s data shows that schools that offer IB made up 20.8% of acceptances to the University from The Daily’s list of 301 schools, despite students from schools with IB composing only 15.3% of all applications. The yield rate of students from IB schools — the percentage of admitted students who attend the University — was 62.0%, compared to 46.8% for non-IB students.
Rina Hou, Kinesiology and LSA freshman, attended the International Academy IB school in Troy, Mich. Hou said she believes the program definitely helped her get into the University.
“Their whole goal is to make sure that you’re a well-rounded student so that your application stands out,” Hou said.
Kinesiology freshman Regan Lee took eight AP classes in high school. She said her choice to take AP courses over regular classes most likely made her appealing as a candidate.
“I think colleges like to see that you want to get ahead in your studies,” Lee said. “Especially in the fields that you’re interested in. For example, I wanted to go pre-med, so I took AP Bio.”
Erica Sanders, director of undergraduate admissions, wrote in an email to The Daily that admissions officers do take into account how many challenging courses a student took in high school when reviewing their application. However, Sanders emphasized that the University also looks at applicants’ extracurricular and co-curricular activities.
“We encourage students to challenge themselves in the areas where they do their best work academically,” Sanders wrote. “While also allowing themselves the opportunity to engage in extracurricular activities or other responsibilities — part-time jobs, volunteer work and assistance with responsibilities at home — that create a well-rounded student.”
AP versus IB
As IB gains popularity in the U.S., more students will have the opportunity to choose between the program and the typical AP curriculum.
Hou said she thinks the IB program is a lot less flexible than taking AP classes.
“When you’re in an IB school, you don’t have a lot of choice,” Hou said. “You just have to take all the required courses — there’s little room for your own choice. For AP, you really get to choose and decide what to take for college credit.”
LSA junior Julia Trautmann disagreed, saying IB fostered a range of skills not included in the AP program.
“It’s so interdisciplinary and requires so much time management and projects outside of your core classes,” Trautmann said. “I do think it helps a lot and could become more popular in the future.”
Sanders wrote that all college-level high school courses — including AP and IB classes — are seen as equally rigorous on a prospective student’s application.
“AP, IB and dual enrollment coursework are all evaluated as advanced curriculum selections,” Sanders wrote. “That, when selected in the areas where the student does their best work, can enhance the student’s application.”
Preparation for the University of Michigan
Trautmann said being an IB student prepared her for college in ways other programs could not have.
“We had a lot of verbal assessments and there were a lot of written assignments too, so I thought it definitely helped with public speaking and writing skills,” Trautmann said.
Sanders agreed, noting in her email that participation in college-level classes can be important preparation for succeeding in introductory-level courses at the University.
“Success in college prep coursework, which includes advanced curriculum selections like AP, Honors, IB and dual-enrollment courses can assist students by introducing the rigor and pace that is similar to introductory college courses,” Sanders wrote.
Lee said she felt her AP experience in high school prepared her for the rigor of college and allowed her to enter freshman year with credits to use toward her degree.
“I feel pretty well prepared to be here, especially because I did receive a decent amount of credit for all of my AP exams,” Lee said. “So, that was definitely helpful to get ahead and … it allowed me to not have to go through all the prereqs.”
On campus, there has also been discussion about the benefits of AP and other college credit receiving courses from high schools, particularly because the University’s class registration system allows students with a higher number of credits to register earlier, advantaging students who’ve taken AP or IB.
What if neither program was available?
School districts located in rural areas, areas with a lower average family income or areas with a higher percentage of racial minorities often have difficulty funding programs like AP and IB. As a result, some students said they did not have access to these advanced courses in high school at all, making them feel underprepared compared to students from larger or wealthier school districts.
Recent LSA graduate Clare Mayes attended a high school in rural southwest Michigan that offered only one AP class. Mayes, whose graduating class was only 63 people, said the lack of access to advanced courses led her to struggle academically when came to the University.
“I came in feeling really underprepared,” Mayes said. “I really struggled in a lot of intro courses that it seemed like a lot of my peers had already been exposed to because they had been in AP classes or anything like that.”
Sanders told The Daily in an email that the University makes a concerted effort to evaluate students based on their circumstances and the opportunities available to them at their high schools.
“Reviewers also consider the educational environment, extracurricular achievements, special skills and talents, the quality of the essays, and the school report and teacher evaluation,” Sanders wrote. “The curriculum is reviewed within the context of the high school a student attends so that students aren’t penalized for attending a school that lacks AP or IB options.”
The University offers two programs — the Summer Bridge Scholars Program and Comprehensive Studies Program — that were initially created to increase Black student enrollment to 10% and offer incoming Black students “a solid academic foundation for success in the fall term.” While these programs were born out of activism from Black students and faculty, white students have made up the majority of participants in recent years.
Lee said students at the University sometimes compare the number of AP or IB classes they took in high school to compete with one another, making advanced classes a form of status symbol on campus.
“It’s a thing that people flash at you and it is frustrating and annoying,” Lee said. “And I wish it didn’t happen because … it’s not like if you didn’t take APs, you can’t get into Michigan, or if you didn’t take APs you’re not as smart as someone who did.”
More from this data series:
Daily Staff Reporter Paige Hodder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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