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Vanderbilt AP Credit & Summer Schooling

Editor's note: I am putting this on the front page because why the hell not.

Vanderbilt's summer school enrollment more than doubled this year, but as Tom pointed out, Vanderbilt's decision to not allow any summer transfer credits this year because of online classes accounts for the increase. But why do so many Vandy students take summer classes in the first place? Shouldn't the prevalence of AP classes make graduating in 4 years easier than ever? Even if Vandy caps at 18 credit hours, that is still 6 free classes. As a more recent graduate (2020), I figured I would provide some insight.

Well, the tl;dr is that Vanderbilt's AP policies are quite unrestrictive among peer institutions (although probably endangered), and summer classes are less about catching up and more about getting ahead/around a particular class.

AP Credits

First, let's look at Vanderbilt's AP credit policy and how it stacks up against some arguably peer institutions. Not every listed institution uses semesters, so instead of showing credit hours, the credit received column uses the rough number of semester-style-equivalent classes that would be accredited towards a degree. Also, the editor seems to refuse to use the HTML table formatting styles I am used to, so we have to make do with its cromulent auto-formatting. Some policies (looking at you UPenn) are truly Jaquayified, so I've distilled the information in the table to the de-facto result.

University Maximum Credit Received
(# of Semester Classes)
Engineering College
Exception
AP Score Required
For Credit
WashU 5 No Difference 4 (mostly)
UPenn 3 No Difference 5: Only Stats, Calc and
foreign languages count
for degree requirements
Duke 2 Differs by
Department
5: Stats, Chem, Calc AB
4: Otherwise
Northwestern Functionally Unlimited* No Difference** 5: Credit for 2 or 1 class(es)
4: Credit for 1 class if score
of 5 was credit for 2 classes
Stanford ~7
(Only STEM and foreign
language)
No Difference 5: Credit for 2 or 1 class(es)
4: Credit for 1 class if score
of 5 was credit for 2 classes
Vanderbilt 6 Unlimited 5: STEM (mostly)
4: Otherwise (mostly)

* Due to residency requirements, too many AP credits will prevent transferring in summer credits from other institutions

** Same as above, but can use more AP credits because Engineering Degrees have more credit hours

Even among those that do explicitly cap credit Vanderbilt lies on the more generous end. If you're looking to double major in engineering like I was, Vanderbilt's flexibility is a big draw. A pursuit otherwise impossible to do in 4 years becomes possible, albeit perhaps 1 or 2 classes away from practical depending on exact amount of AP credit.

Enter summer school.

Summer School Incentives

- Get Ahead

In the Summer of 2017, I took Diff. Eq. and Physics 2. I wanted to major in Chemical Engineering and Computer Science but could not pick betwixt the two. Armed with 26 AP credits and 33 credits taken in my Freshman year, I figured if I thinned out my later years as much as possible, the double major would be practical. While depression mixed with quantum mechanics would curtail those plans, many fellow summer schoolers were there for similar reasons.

  • Wanting to graduate in 3 or 3.5 years
  • Looking to do co-op in Junior/Senior year
  • Make double/triple majors more feasible
  • Planning on taking heavy research hours
  • Running orgs/competitions at super involved levels
  • Getting a Masters in 4 years
  • Have a lighter load for MCAT studying

- Athletes

There were quite a few athletes around for obvious reasons, although it is hard to say they were for sure a majority. Not every athlete is instantly identifiable as such; only the basketball team really stood out.

I did get to know Djery Baptiste that summer and I must say from my limited interaction with him, that he is a wonderful human being. If you needed someone for those quintessential college life philosophy conversations till 4 A.M., Djery was your man.

- Avoid

What I suspect the strong plurality was that summer, if you include those transferring credits, is the people who avoided a particular class or professor. In my Physics class, this was mostly rising senior pre-meds who had put off their least favorite subject and desired the 20, not 200 person class. Many friends spent that summer taking Organic Chemistry (Orgo) either at Vandy or elsewhere to avoid that notorious class. (For the love of Caldwell's turkeys, if anyone you know is matriculating to Vanderbilt, has a 5 on the Chem AP test, and thinks they might want or need to take Orgo at any point, convince them to take Freshman Orgo. It is such a helpful low-stakes class with great professors and a generous curve so that no one fails if you put in enough effort. It is the perfect high school to college transition class. Plus smaller class sizes)

Those early STEM classes were the primary culprits. The right professor's reputation, limited class availability, and guaranteed smaller class sizes did sometimes end up populating a random class. Cheaper tuition costs for taking a hard class at a perceived easier institution didn't hurt either.

As far as the COVID increase goes, I think this reasoning is as strong as ever. Most of us experienced a considerable decline in course difficulty to compensate for the weirdness of online courses. Someone facing a challenging course might opt for the more flexible, and frankly (if they are desperate enough) easier to cheat version of the class with in-person classes looming.

- Catch Up

As always there are those that fall behind for whatever reason, or those looking to retake to improve GPA. Of the two, retaking was more common but both populations were minor in comparison.

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