Beyond AP - Academics - McDonogh School

Beyond AP

As of the 2022-2023 school year, McDonogh moved beyond the AP curriculum, introducing a dynamic range of innovative courses for all Upper School students. This move—already embraced by many influential independent schools in the U.S.—gives strength and additional rigor to our program, inspires even more creativity in our esteemed faculty, and, most importantly, allows our students to thrive and distinguish themselves in meaningful ways.

We believe our students are far better served by the expertise of McDonogh's greatest asset: our faculty. Moving beyond the AP affords us the opportunity to deliver a more timely, challenging, and superior education to each student. When coupled with our LifeReady academic framework and signature resources like Roots Farm, the Fader Innovation Center, our 800+ acre campus, and Greatest Good McDonogh, the educational possibilities are limitless.

In preparation for this transformative shift, McDonogh's leadership and faculty engaged in a comprehensive review of graduation requirements, meticulously evaluated and revised course offerings, and crafted exceptional programming to augment the world-class education that has always defined McDonogh. While McDonogh students are still prepared to sit for AP exams, without the constraints of AP, they are benefitting from an impressive array of courses that are aligned with discerning success criteria—courses that cannot be found in any other school.

For further insights into our move beyond the AP curriculum, we invite you to explore the following videos and FAQs published ahead of the 2022-2023 school year. 

Why Move Beyond AP?

What Classes Look Like

College Counseling

Beyond AP FAQs

Why has McDonogh redesigned its academic program (and moving beyond AP)?

“When LifeReady was published in 2014, McDonogh promised learning inspired by teacher expertise and creativity, real questions and problems, and deep thinking and learning—all of which align to the kinds of world our graduates will live in. Our redesign is guided by rigorous criteria to achieve this vision for learning, and it makes use of our greatest asset: our immensely talented faculty. Our teachers are creative experts who bring knowledge of their disciplines together with years of teaching experience to live out our mission: to create life-altering moments for each and every child. We will achieve this when we are in control of our own independent curriculum.”

— Kate Mueller, Associate Head of School

Will my child still be competitive in the college process?

“Definitely. As our admissions panel, with deans from Princeton University, Wake-Forest, and UMD-College Park, noted at a webinar last winter, universities and colleges assess student applications based on what the school deems are its most rigorous courses and criteria. Lucky for us, McDonogh is very well known and respected by colleges and universities in the U.S. and abroad. We will communicate the rigors of our program through our school profile, through direct conversations with college deans, through our recommendations, and, if needed, by sharing our proficiency scales and syllabi. We believe, in fact, that students will be more competitive and distinctive since they will be more distinctive with courses that showcase their interests, talents, and creativity. What’s more, they will not get lost by being another of the more than 70% of high school students across the nation who take AP.”

— Alice Margraff, Director of College Counseling

Don’t colleges and universities require that students take AP courses to be admitted? 

“No. This is a common misunderstanding. If—and only if—a school participates in the AP program will colleges look to see if a student is enrolled in these courses. Schools that do not participate in the AP program are assessed on the program they do have—which, for McDonogh students, will be equally (and in some cases, more) rigorous.” 

— Jen Pineau, Senior Associate Director of College Counseling

How are courses different after AP?

“New courses are still grounded in our liberal arts curriculum (English, math, science, history, world language, arts) and emphasize depth of learning. Courses, whether introductory or our most rigorous, are designed to help students build conceptual knowledge as well as highly-skilled disciplinary and procedural understanding. Our most advanced courses require complex content and skill knowledge, but also require the kinds of work typical in the discipline. Students may prepare conference papers or offer poster sessions, which are typical in the humanities and sciences. Other work may connect with initiatives through Greatest Good McDonogh or with Roots Farm or with the many other unique advantages provided by our 800 acres. Our criteria for course design, coupled with our disciplinary proficiency scales, renders our current AP offerings rather ordinary.”

— Kevin Costa, Director of Innovation & Learning

Do courses still offer the GPA bump for advanced courses?

“Yes. Students will still receive a .67 grade bump for advanced courses.”

Can students still take AP exams even if we’re not an AP school?


— Alice Margraff, Director of College Counseling

Do courses prepare students for AP exams?

“It depends on the course. We are confident that all courses will provide the foundational knowledge to do well on AP exams. If students wish to take them, however, some courses may require students to do some additional preparation beyond class time, just as they have in the past."

— Merritt Livermore, Head of Upper School

How is the school ensuring rigor and quality control of new courses? 

“New course design is guided by a set of clear criteria for courses and disciplinary proficiency scales (standards). All courses and syllabi then undergo a thorough quality review by the Upper School’s Academic Program Advisory, a team of teachers who read and vet all new courses every year. To this end, we will continually ensure that we are offering the most rigorous, relevant, and distinguishing program for each and every student. ”

— Merritt Livermore, Head of Upper School

What will new courses be named?

“Our top courses are given a moniker that makes them easily identifiable by admissions officers and readers of our course guides, school profile, and transcripts."

— Merritt Livermore, Head of Upper School

How will colleges and universities interpret a transcript that has AP courses completed prior to 2022?

“For courses taken in the 2022 - 23 school year and beyond, colleges will recognize our most challenging courses based on our own designations. We will describe our strength-of-program on our school profile, a document that is used by admissions representatives to understand our academic program. In that document, and in direct conversations with offices of admission and in our school recommendations, the college counselors will communicate our program design.”

— Alice Margraff, Director of College Counseling

Are we the only school doing this? 

“No. In fact, we are very much in the ‘middle of the pack.’ For example, Lawrenceville School was one of the institutions involved in the development of the AP program in the 1950s, and it moved beyond the AP program long ago. Several peer schools in Washington, DC are also moving beyond the program. All of these schools—established, well-known, and well-respected institutions—understand that our independence will distinguish our students far more than a third-party ‘one-size-fits-all’ curriculum. McDonogh School is proud to be leading this trend in our region.”

— Kate Mueller, Associate Head of School