The Ultimate Guide to Acing the AP Music Theory Exam

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

The Ultimate Guide to Acing the AP Music Theory Exam

The AP Music Theory Exam is one of the more obscure AP Exams given the specialized nature of the material. While most high school students have taken an in-depth history or biology course, for example, not as many have dedicated the same amount of time towards an equally thorough music course. This makes the AP Music Theory Exam an unlikely candidate for self-studies. It’s advisable that you’ve not only taken the AP course beforehand but also that you fared well and finished with an excellent grasp of the material.

To succeed, you’ll need to have a thorough knowledge of music theory and an ability to write and read essential voice and musical notation or impressive performance skills with an instrument you choose. AdmissionSight has compiled the following guide to assuage any concerns about the AP Music Theory Exam. We explain the importance of the exam, what you’ll find on it, and how best to prepare. Let’s get started!

What is the AP Music Theory Exam?

The AP Music Theory Exam is a rigorous assessment offered by the College Board for high school students who have a passion for music and want to further their understanding of music theory.

This exam allows students to showcase their knowledge and skills in areas such as musical notation, composition, sight-singing, and harmonic analysis. It is designed to be the equivalent of a first-year college-level music theory course.

Music theory is the study of the fundamental elements of music, including melody, harmony, rhythm, and form. It provides a framework for understanding how music is constructed and how different musical elements interact with each other. The AP Music Theory Exam aims to assess students’ ability to analyze and interpret music, as well as their understanding of the underlying principles that govern musical composition.

One of the key components of the AP Music Theory Exam is musical notation. Students are expected to be proficient in reading and interpreting musical scores, including identifying key signatures, time signatures, and various musical symbols and markings. They must also demonstrate their understanding of musical terms and concepts, such as dynamics, articulation, and phrasing.

In addition to musical notation, the exam also tests students’ skills in composition. They must compose original musical pieces, applying their knowledge of melody, harmony, and form. This allows students to showcase their creativity and demonstrate their ability to apply theoretical concepts to practical musical situations.

Sight singing is another vital aspect of the AP Music Theory Exam. Students are given a musical excerpt and are required to sing it accurately, without any prior preparation. This tests their ability to read and interpret music in real time, as well as their understanding of pitch, rhythm, and musical intervals.

Harmonic analysis is yet another crucial skill assessed in the exam. Students are expected to analyze and identify the chords and harmonic progressions used in a musical piece. This requires a deep understanding of chord structures, functional harmony, and voice-leading principles.

Why is the AP Music Theory Exam important?

There are several reasons why the AP Music Theory Exam holds significant value for aspiring musicians. Firstly, successfully passing the exam can earn you college credit, saving you both time and money. This means that if you score well on the exam, you may be able to skip introductory music theory courses in college and move on to more advanced coursework. By doing so, you can delve deeper into your musical studies and explore more complex concepts at an earlier stage.

Additionally, colleges and universities often consider AP scores during the admissions process, so a high score on this exam can enhance your academic profile. Admissions officers recognize the rigor of the AP Music Theory Exam and understand that a strong performance indicates a student’s dedication and aptitude in music. This can give you a competitive edge over other applicants, especially if you pursue a music-related major or career.

Furthermore, the exam serves as a comprehensive assessment of your music theory knowledge, providing you with a strong foundation for further musical studies. It covers many topics, including notation, harmony, counterpoint, and analysis. By preparing for and taking the AP Music Theory Exam, you will gain a thorough understanding of these fundamental concepts and develop critical thinking skills that are essential for any musician.

Moreover, the exam allows you to demonstrate your proficiency in various aspects of music theory, which can be beneficial not only for college applications but also for future musical endeavors. Whether you aspire to become a composer, performer, music educator, or musicologist, a solid understanding of music theory is crucial. The AP Music Theory Exam provides you with an opportunity to showcase your knowledge and skills in these areas, validating your expertise and setting you apart from other musicians.

Furthermore, preparing for the exam can be an enriching experience in itself. As you study for the exam, you will delve deep into the intricacies of music theory, exploring the inner workings of musical compositions and analyzing the techniques of renowned composers. This process of exploration and analysis can deepen your music appreciation and enhance your ability to interpret and perform musical pieces with greater insight and nuance.

In conclusion, the AP Music Theory Exam is essential for aspiring musicians because it offers the opportunity to earn college credit, enhances your academic profile, provides a comprehensive assessment of music theory knowledge, and allows you to demonstrate proficiency in various aspects of music theory. Additionally, preparing for the exam can be a rewarding journey of musical exploration and growth. So, if you are passionate about music and eager to expand your musical horizons, consider taking the AP Music Theory Exam and embark on a path of musical excellence.

How long is the AP Music Theory Exam?

According to the College Board, the AP Music Theory Exam is 2 hours and 40 minutes long. The exam consists of two sections: multiple-choice and free-response. The multiple-choice section has 75 questions and lasts approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes, 45% of the exam score. The free-response section has 7 questions and lasts approximately 1 hour and 10 minutes, which is also 45% of the exam score.

How hard is the AP Music Theory Exam?

The difficulty of the AP Music Theory Exam varies from student to student, but it is generally considered slightly more challenging than other AP courses. The exam requires students to master a unique skill set, including aural (listening) and nonaural music analysis, notating music, sight-singing, and analyzing notated and performed music.

What factors affect the difficulty of the AP Music Theory Exam?

Several factors contribute to the difficulty of the AP Music Theory Exam, including:

  1. Unique Skill Set: The exam requires mastery of a unique skill set, including aural (listening) and nonaural music analysis, notating music, sight-singing, and analyzing notated and performed music.
  2. Prior Knowledge: Students with prior experience in reading music and basic music performance skills may find the pace of AP Music Theory daunting.
  3. Course Material: The course covers various musical concepts, including pitch, rhythm, form, musical design, notating music, sight-singing, and music analysis, which can be challenging for some students.
  4. Aural Theory: Aural theory, which tests a student’s ear, including their ability to identify pitch and rhythm, is considered one of the most difficult aspects of the exam.
  5. Preparation: The difficulty of the exam can also depend on a student’s dedication to working on the aural section and the quality of preparation provided by the teacher or the school.

Overall, while the AP Music Theory Exam may be challenging for some, it is not impossible to succeed with adequate preparation and dedication.

AP Music Theory Exam Format

The AP Music Theory Exam is a comprehensive assessment that evaluates your understanding and application of fundamental music theory concepts. The exam consists of two main sections: multiple-choice and free-response.

The AP Music Theory Exam is designed to assess your understanding of the primary learning objectives and skills outlined in the AP course. The test is broken down into two sections and takes two hours and 40 minutes to complete – making it one of the shorter AP Exams. The test comprises 2 sight-singing tasks, 7 free-response questions, and 75 multiple-choice questions. The first section of the AP Music Theory Exam is all multiple-choice and all other question formats fall into the test’s second section. We’ll provide a more in-depth breakdown of the test’s sections below.

Section 1: Multiple Choice

The AP Music Theory Exam’s first section eats up an hour and 20 of the test, comprises 75 multiple-choice questions, and makes up 45% of your overall score. Between 41 and 43 of the questions use aural stimuli to assess your listening skills and test your understanding of music theory. The remaining 32 to 34 questions rely on musical scores in a printed format to test your understanding of formal procedures or devices, texture, metric/rhythmic organization, developmental procedures, melodic organization, and score analysis.

Only 10 to 12 of the questions are independent while the remaining 13 are grouped together in sets of 4 to 6 questions. The music used for questions on the AP Music Theory Exam comes from various genres and periods including contemporary (pop, jazz, or world music), 19th or 20th century, romantic, classical, and baroque. Both vocal and instrumental music is used.

Tackling the multiple-choice section

To tackle the multiple-choice section of the AP Music Theory Exam, students can follow these strategies based on the exam structure and expert advice:

  1. Familiarize with the Format: The multiple-choice section consists of approximately 75 questions and is divided into two parts: aural and nonaural. The aural part involves listening to audio clips to answer questions, while the nonaural part requires analyzing printed music scores.
  2. Practice Aural Skills: Since the aural part involves listening to musical excerpts, students should practice their listening skills and be able to identify pitch, rhythm, and other musical elements from the audio clips.
  3. Study Notated Music: For the nonaural part, students should focus on analyzing printed music scores, including understanding harmonic procedures, melodic organization, rhythmic/metric organization, texture, and formal device.
  4. Review Musical Terminology: The exam may also include questions about musical terminology, notational skills, and basic compositional skills, so students should ensure they are familiar with these concepts.
  5. Utilize Official Resources: Students are encouraged to use official free-response questions and scoring information on the College Board’s website to practice and prepare for the exam.
  6. Time Management: Given the time constraints, students should practice time management to ensure they can answer all the questions within the allocated time.

By following these strategies and dedicating time to practice aural and nonaural music analysis, students can effectively prepare for and tackle the multiple-choice section of the AP Music Theory Exam.

Section 2(a): Free Response

The second portion of the AP Music Theory Exam can be broken down into two smaller parts. The first of which starts with four questions in a free-response format. One of these questions focuses on melodic dictation while the other focuses on harmonic dictation. This portion of the exam lasts roughly 25 minutes. Afterward, you’ll have 45 minutes to finish answering the other three free-response questions focusing on melodic harmonization, part-writing from Roman numerals, and part-writing from figured bass.

Section 2(b): Free Response: Sight-Singing

The latter portion of the AP Music Theory Exam’s second section includes two questions, takes 10 minutes to finish, and comprises 10% of the overall score. This sight-singing portion of the free-response questions requires you to record and sing two diatonic melodies. They can be brief – between four and eight bars. Students have a minute and 15 seconds to rehearse each melody and then 30 seconds to perform each.

Tackling the free-response section

To effectively tackle the free-response section of the AP Music Theory Exam, students can employ the following strategies based on the exam structure and expert advice:

  1. Understand Task Verbs: Pay close attention to the task verbs used in the free-response questions, as each one directs students to complete a specific type of response. Examples of task verbs include “Complete,” “Continue logically,” “Notate,” and “Realize”.
  2. Practice Melodic and Harmonic Dictation: The free-response section typically includes questions on melodic and harmonic dictation, where students must transcribe melodies and harmonies from aural stimuli. Practicing these skills is essential for success in this section.
  3. Part Writing from Figured Bass: Students should be prepared for questions that require them to complete part writing from figured bass, following conventions of 18th-century voice-leading procedures.
  4. Utilize Official Free-Response Questions: Students are encouraged to use official free-response questions available on the College Board’s website to practice and prepare for this exam section.
  5. Time Management: Given the time constraints, students should practice time management to complete all the free-response questions within the allocated time.

By familiarizing themselves with the task verbs, practicing melodic and harmonic dictation, and utilizing official free-response questions, students can effectively prepare for and tackle the free-response section of the AP Music Theory Exam.


Here are some question examples from previous exams so you’d know what to expect:

samples from AP Music Theory samples from AP Music Theory samples from AP Music Theory samples from AP Music Theory samples from AP Music Theory samples from AP Music Theory

What is on the AP Music Theory Exam?

The AP Music Theory Exam covers many essential topics for a deep understanding of music theory. These topics include but are not limited to:

Notation and terms

This includes understanding musical symbols, signs, and terminology used in sheet music.

Notation and terms are the foundation of music theory. It is through these symbols and signs that musicians can communicate and interpret musical ideas. From the treble and bass clefs to dynamic markings and articulation symbols, a thorough understanding of notation and terms is crucial for any serious musician. Additionally, knowing the terminology used in sheet music allows musicians to discuss and analyze musical compositions accurately.

Scales and key signatures

A thorough knowledge of major and minor scales, as well as various vital signatures, is necessary.

Scales and key signatures form the backbone of tonal music. Major and minor scales provide the basic building blocks for melodies and harmonies, while key signatures indicate the tonal center of a piece. Understanding scales and key signatures allows musicians to identify and analyze the harmonic structure of a composition. It also enables them to transpose music into different keys, expanding their repertoire and versatility as performers.

Intervals and chords

Understanding intervals, chord construction, and chord progressions is crucial for harmonic analysis and composition.

Intervals and chords are the building blocks of harmony. By understanding intervals, musicians can identify the distance between two notes and recognize their relationship within a musical context. Chord construction involves understanding how chords are built using intervals, and chord progressions refer to the movement of chords within a piece of music. This knowledge allows musicians to analyze and interpret the harmonic structure of a composition, as well as compose their own music with a strong understanding of harmony.

Rhythm and meter

The ability to read and interpret different rhythmic patterns and meters is essential.

Rhythm and meter provide the framework for musical timing and pulse. Understanding different rhythmic patterns and meters allows musicians to perform and interpret music accurately. It enables them to navigate complex rhythms, syncopations, and polyrhythms with precision and musicality. Additionally, a strong sense of rhythm and meter is crucial for ensemble playing, as it ensures that all musicians are synchronized and playing together as a cohesive unit.

Cadences and phrase structure

Recognizing cadences and understanding phrase structure contributes to musical analysis and composition.

Cadences and phrase structure play a significant role in shaping the overall structure and form of a musical composition. Cadences are punctuation marks that signal the end of a musical phrase or section, while phrase structure refers to the organization and grouping of musical ideas. Recognizing different types of cadences and understanding phrase structure allows musicians to analyze the form and structure of a composition, as well as compose their own music with a clear sense of musical direction and coherence.

The structure of the AP Music Theory framework consists of eight commonly instructed units, offering a suggested sequence for the course. As usual, you retain the flexibility to arrange the course content according to your preferences.

Unit 1: Music Fundamentals I: Pitch, Major Scales and Key Signatures, Rhythm, Meter, and Expressive Elements
Unit 2: Music Fundamentals II: Minor Scales and Key Signatures, Melody, Timbre, and Texture
Unit 3: Music Fundamentals III: Triads and Seventh Chords
Unit 4: Harmony and Voice Leading I: Chord Function, Cadence, and Phrase
Unit 5: Harmony and Voice Leading II: Chord Progressions and Predominant Function
Unit 6: Harmony and Voice Leading III: Embellishments, Motives, and Melodic Devices
Unit 7: Harmony and Voice Leading IV: Secondary Function
Unit 8: Modes and Form

The course and exam description for AP Music Theory details specific skills for students to practice over the year. These skills are designed to aid them in developing the mindset and behaviors characteristic of musicians.

Skill Description
1. Analyze Performed Music Apply musical terms, concepts, and relationships to performed music (aural).
2. Analyze Notated Music Apply musical terms, concepts, and relationships to notated music (written).
3. Convert Between Performed and Notated Music Apply conventions of musical notation and performance in converting music between aural and written forms.
4. Complete Based on Cues Complete music based on cues, following 18th-century stylistic norms.

AP Music Theory Exam Scoring Breakdown

The AP Music Theory Exam is scored on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest possible score. The scoring breakdown is as follows:

  • Multiple-choice section: 60% of the total score
  • Free-response section: 40% of the total score

Regarding the multiple-choice section, students are tested on their knowledge of music theory concepts such as notation, scales, intervals, chords, and harmonic progressions. This section consists of a series of questions where students must select the correct answer from a set of options. It requires a solid understanding of the fundamentals of music theory and the ability to apply that knowledge to various musical examples.

The free-response section, on the other hand, assesses students’ skills in music analysis and composition. This section typically includes tasks such as part-writing exercises, melodic dictation, harmonic analysis, and composition of a short musical passage. Students are expected to demonstrate their ability to analyze and interpret musical elements, as well as their creativity in composing original music.

It is important to note that a score of 3 or higher is considered passing and may grant you college credit, depending on the policies of the institution you plan to attend. Achieving a high score on the AP Music Theory Exam not only demonstrates your proficiency in music theory but also opens up opportunities for advanced placement or exemption from introductory music theory courses in college.

How to study for the AP Musical Theory Exam

Test your skills – The best way to kick off your preparation for the AP Music Theory Exam is by testing your current knowledge of the material covered on the test. This not only gives you a better understanding of what you’ll need to study in greater depth but you’ll also become more familiar with what’s covered on the exam by browsing sample material. There are many sources providing sample questions, but it can be tough to find a complete sample test that includes both written and listening portions. Fortunately, the College Board site does offer a singular, comprehensive AP Music Theory sample test with sound files that were previously administered on an older exam.

After you’ve completed a diagnostic test, it’s essential to take inventory of the areas in which you were knowledgeable and the areas in which you need improvement. The multiple-choice section of any sample test should be fairly easy to score since the answers are objective. However, you might have to ask for help from a teacher or friend to score the free-response portions since these are open to artistic and subjective interpretation. This sample test is a good way to start that makes it easier to target your studying in problem areas and provides an initial benchmark against which you can measure your progress.

Study the material –  Now that you have a better idea of where you stand in terms of the subject matter, you can dive into actually studying relevant material. The AP Music Theory Exam requires students to master topics such as rhythm, meter, chords, keys and scales, intervals, and pitches. You’ll need to be able to apply these skills to creative and complex tasks, including:

  • Composition of bass lines for any given melody while implying appropriate harmony.
  • Harmonic and melodic dictation
  • Realization of Roman numeral progression
  • Realization of figured bass
  • Sight-singing simple melodies

Improve listening skills: Besides reviewing the theoretical applications of the subject matter, it’s also essential to improve your aural abilities. Students can listen to musical pieces analytically and attentively with a focus on developing musical memory and the skill of articulating a response to aesthetic, stylistic, and formal components.

Practice your performance: Students must also practice their musical performances thoroughly. You should focus on singing, piano, and the primary instrument you choose to use. Since sight-singing is part of the final free-response question, you must also work on this ability.

Playing a violin

Consult official sources: One of the best ways to study more efficiently is to focus only on the material that will show up on the AP Music Theory Exam. As one of the least popular exams and courses among the AP subjects, there’s a lack of high-quality study guides. The Barron AP AP Music Theory book is perhaps the best source. It includes two comprehensive exams with non-aural and aural parts.

Practice MC questions – When you’ve got the theory down, it’s wise to practice answering the questions you’ll find on the AP Music Theory Exam. After all, understanding the material is only half of the battle. You have to be able to apply it effectively. Since multiple-choice questions comprise most of the exam, you should dedicate a decent amount of time to this type of question. Most AP Music Theory study guides should include some MC questions. Study.com is always a good place to begin your search.

Aural MC questions: Not all multiple-choice questions on the AP Music Theory Exam are the same. The aural questions assess your listening skills and your understanding of music theory in the context of actual music literature examples. You’ll have to successfully recognize isolated rhythmic patterns and pitch, detect rhythm and pitch errors, or identify materials and processes in a broad array of musical styles, media, and genres. Formal procedures, texture, instrumentation, rhythmic and meter patterns, and tonal, harmonic, and melodic, organization are all included.

Non-aural MC questions: The multiple-choice questions not focusing on aural stimuli will test your score analysis skills. These abilities include formal procedures and devices, texture, metric or rhythmic organization, developmental procedures, melodic organization, and large and small-scale harmonic procedures. Elemental composition, notational skills, and music terminology might also be covered in these questions.

Rehearse free-response questions – The AP Music Theory Exam’s free-response section sets it apart from other AP exams due to its stress on aural skills and the addition of a sight-singing performance. In this way, it bears a slight resemblance to the foreign language exams.

Free-response questions 1 & 2: Students should prepare to focus on melodic dictation when answering the initial two free-response questions. After listening to a melody several times, you’ll be asked to notate it. The test will clearly state how many times you’ll be able to hear the melody, but it’s played 3 to 4 times typically. Pay close attention to the directions to understand how many listens you’ll have. When playing the melody, pay close attention to compound and simple meters, chromatic and diatonic melodies, bass and treble clefs, and minor and major modes.

Free-response questions 3 & 4: The third and fourth questions revolve around harmonic dictation. Both questions typically ask students to listen to harmony several times before notating the bass and soprano voices. Like in the first two free-response questions, you’ll be told beforehand how many times you’ll have to hear the harmony played. Be sure to keep this information in mind when you’re making your notation. When answering these questions, you’ll want to pay close attention to the harmonic analysis within a four-voice texture and the notation of bass and soprano lines.

Free Response Question 5: For this question, students must part write based on a figured bass. Typically, there’s no listening portion involved. Instead, students receive an opening chord and the following bass line. Then, you must work out the figured bass with traditional voice-leading in four voices. You’ll also have to provide the appropriate Roman numeral for each chord you write to indicate the harmonic function.

Free-response question 6: Similar to the previous question, you’ll be asked to produce a four-voice progression using traditional voice-leading procedures indicating Arabic and Roman numerals. There isn’t an aural component to this question.

Free-response question 7: The seventh free-response question is open to interpretation more so than the previous questions. You’re asked to write a bass line after being provided a melody. Instead of being provided with an aural component, you’ll have to write a cadence for each phrase ending, provide melodic qualities to the bass line, and diversify the bass line’s motion in response to the soprano. The only tool you’ll have is the written progression provided on the test.

Free-response sight-singing: For the final two questions on the AP Music Theory Exam, you’ll have to sight-sing a melody in accurate rhythm, pitch, and consistent tempo. Students will have 75 seconds to rehearse each melody and 30 seconds for performance. These final free-response questions demand one of the most distinctive skills of any AP exam.

Tips on the day of the exam

The day of the exam can be stressful, but with the right approach, you can maximize your chances of success:

  • Get a good night’s sleep: Ensure you’re well-rested to optimize your focus and concentration during the exam.
  • Eat a healthy breakfast: Fuel your brain with a nutritious breakfast to sustain your energy throughout the test.
  • Read the instructions carefully: Take the time to read and understand all instructions for each exam section thoroughly.
  • Manage your time wisely: Allocate your time according to the weightage of each section. Pace yourself to ensure you have enough time to answer all questions.
  • Stay calm and confident: Trust your preparation and remain calm, even if you encounter challenging questions. Take deep breaths and approach each question strategically.

When is the AP Music Theory Exam in 2024?

The AP Music Theory Exam is scheduled for May 15, 2024, at 12 PM local time. Students should verify the exact start/report time with their school, as testing times may vary.

For a complete list of the 2024 AP Exam dates, here’s a full list:

Week 1 Morning 8 a.m.

Local Time

Afternoon 12 p.m.

Local Time


May 6, 2024

United States Government and Politics Art History



May 7, 2024

Human Geography





May 8, 2024

English Literature and Composition Comparative Government and Politics

Computer Science A


May 9, 2024

Chinese Language and Culture

Environmental Science


May 10, 2024

European History

United States History


Spanish Literature and Culture

Art and Design: Friday, May 10, 2024 (8 p.m. ET), is the deadline for AP Art and Design students to submit their three portfolio components as final in the AP Digital Portfolio.
Week 2 Morning 8 a.m.

Local Time

Afternoon 12 p.m.

Local Time

Afternoon 2 p.m.

Local Time


May 13, 2024

Calculus AB

Calculus BC

Italian Language and Culture



May 14, 2024

English Language and Composition African American Studies

Physics C: Mechanics

Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism

May 15, 2024

French Language and Culture

World History: Modern

Computer Science Principles

Music Theory


May 16, 2024

Spanish Language and Culture Biology

Japanese Language and Culture


May 17, 2024

German Language and Culture

Physics 1: Algebra-Based


Physics 2: Algebra-Based

When do AP scores come out?

AP scores are typically released in early to mid-July of the year the exams were taken. The exact release date may vary slightly from year to year, but students who took their AP exams in May can generally expect their scores to become available.

You can check for updates on the College Board’s official AP scores website if you are waiting for your AP scores. They will also email you when your scores are added to your score report. If you haven’t received your scores by mid-August, contacting AP Services for Students is recommended for assistance.

Post-exam tips

Once the exam is over, it’s essential to reflect on your performance and take note of areas that may need improvement:

  • Evaluate your performance: Assess your performance objectively. Identify your strengths and weaknesses to guide your future studies.
  • Seek feedback: If possible, discuss the exam with your teacher or classmates. Gain insights and feedback that can help you better understand your performance.
  • Continue learning: The AP Music Theory Exam is just one milestone in your musical journey. Keep exploring and deepening your understanding of music theory beyond the scope of the exam.

With the comprehensive information and tips in this guide, you are equipped with the knowledge and strategies needed to conquer the AP Music Theory Exam. Remember to stay focused, dedicated, and most importantly, enjoy the process of learning and making music!

AdmissionSight is here for you

The college admission process is a source of significant stress for high school graduates who try their best to navigate its many turns. AdmissionSight has already worked with countless students to achieve their academic goals, and we’re always looking to help others. With decades of experience aiding students in their educational pursuits, we’re uniquely positioned to offer the resources, tools, and expertise you need to succeed.

We help students capitalize on their strengths and perfect the admissions process to significantly increase their chances of gaining admittance to the school of their dreams. You can contact us for more information about our services and how we can help you.



Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Sign up now to receive insights on
how to navigate the college admissions process.