How Many AP Classes Should I Take? What is the Magic Number?

I get this question more times than I can count! Students seem to think that they have to take AP courses in order to get into colleges. This is not the case. How many AP courses to take is a very subjective question based on each individual student’s unique circumstances. Below is information on school offerings and restrictions, scholastic ability, and admissions to help determine if taking AP courses is right for you and if so, how many.

What AP Courses Does Your High School Offer?

There are some high schools that offer few to no AP classes, and colleges will know this. When your transcript is sent from your high school to the colleges to which you are applying, there is also a school report sent. This report outlines the course curriculum that is offered at that school, which includes the courses that are available.

What Restrictions and Guidelines Does Your High School Place on Students (e.g., number of AP courses a student can take each year)

There are some high schools where students are only allowed to take a certain number of AP courses in a year and there are prerequisites, such as grades in prior courses, teacher recommendations, and previous classes taken in order to be able to take an AP course (e.g., you need to have earned an 85 or above in World History in order to take AP US History).

Can You Earn a Solid Grade in the Course?

It is important to ascertain if taking AP courses will be a struggle, given the difficulty and considering all other factors in the student’s life. This is the balance that needs to be considered. If a student was struggling in Algebra 2 and Trigonometry and wants to take AP Calc, is this really the right course choice to make?

The AP – Admissions Connection

Please know that taking 1 AP course will not make or break you getting accepted to a college. The admissions officer will look at your entire high school career and the courses you took. Taking AP US History vs. US History Honors will probably make no difference whatsoever in your acceptance to that school. More so, they are going to look at your trend, as a student, throughout your high school career. On the flip side, if a student is getting 98’s and 99’s in all of their classes, opting to take the regular level of the courses vs. the honors or AP courses, that may stick out as somewhat odd and that the student wasn’t challenging themselves.

College Selectiveness and Student Expectations

What also needs to be considered are the colleges a student is applying to and the selectiveness and expectation of those schools. If 80%+ of the applicant pool are in the top 3% of their high school class, taking every AP course that they are allowed to take and succeeding in those classes with top grades, the likelihood that a student who is taking regular level or honors courses when AP courses are available will be accepted is highly unlikely. Does that mean you should take a lot of AP courses? No, not at all! Do you want to attend a school, even if you can gain acceptance, where all of the students are at a much higher level academically than you are, and that you may suffer greatly and possibly not be successful? I don’t think so.

It is important to consider your aspirations on colleges you would like to attend and how that compares to the kind of student you are. Remember, even if you excel in all of your classes, including your AP courses, and have taken the maximum number of AP’s offered, for the most highly selective colleges, you are still just like 80% of their applicant pool. How can you differentiate yourself, up and above this?

It’s About Finding the Right Fit Courses and Colleges

Quoted directly from an admissions officer: “If a student asks whether he can take AP Environmental Science instead of AP Calc BC, often he is really saying that AP Calc BC is too hard, and he’d like to take a class where he can be more successful.” This is perfectly OK! It also may mean that that student is more interested in the environment than calculus, which, by the way, is completely fine! Maybe MIT isn’t the right fit for him. On the other hand, if a student took all of the math classes her school had to offer, earned an easy 4.0 and loved math classes so much that she took math classes outside of school, then MIT would see a student who loves math and would be capable of their workload (this still doesn’t mean they will be accepted, on the contrary!)

Taking AP Courses Is Not the Answer to College Dreams

Taking AP’s comes down to finding the right set of colleges based on your needs: socially, academically, financially and emotionally. Take the courses that challenge and interest you, but fit with who you are. Remember, college will not get any easier, it is going to get harder and finding the colleges that fit you is far more relevant and critical to your success than striving to attend the most selective. You will make your college journey a success, not the college you attend. I cannot stress this enough!

Click here for information about Advanced Placement Classes, from the College Board Website.

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