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The Best AP Classes to Take to Prepare for Engineering

This article was written based on the information and opinions presented by admissions counselor Alexander Oddo in a CollegeVine livestream. You can watch the full livestream for more info.


What’s Covered:




One of the main factors to consider when deciding which Advanced Placement (AP) classes to take in high school is how they will impact college admissions. For students hoping to enter the field of math and computer science, the goal of AP classes is to show STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) mastery and gain foundational skills. 


Of course, the classes that you choose to take significantly depend on which courses your school offers. Colleges are not expecting you to have taken an AP class that is not offered at your school, and it won’t harm your application. 


Are you not sure which engineering major is right for you? Check out CollegeVine’s guide to 60 types of engineering majors


Should You Take AP Calculus Before College? 


For students who want to take STEM AP classes with the goal of majoring in a related field, taking the highest level of calculus offered by your high school is a good place to start. 


Calculus is a building block for more complicated concepts in engineering, particularly for upper-level engineering courses. All students aiming to go to a competitive college to pursue engineering should take Calculus AB.


Since introductory engineering classes often function as a calculus boot camp and a time to relearn concepts from high school, having strong foundational knowledge in calculus will make these classes—and the engineering major as a whole—much easier.


If AP Calculus is not offered at your high school or if there is another reason that it isn’t possible for you to take it, that is not necessarily going to disqualify you from engineering programs. Students can be admitted without taking calculus, though they will have to complete it early in their college career, perhaps during the summer before beginning the program. 


Does AP Statistics Look Good on College Applications? 


Some engineering concentrations—in particular, civil engineering—teach students about risk analysis and rely on statistics. In other engineering classes, statistics are often used in conjunction with coding. 


As a result, taking AP Statistics can be helpful. Much of real-world engineering involves analyzing numbers, which is essentially what statistics teaches. Having an analytical ability with numbers is useful for any engineering track that a student may pursue.


Do You Need to Take AP Computer Science When Applying to Engineering Programs?


Most engineering programs require several coding classes, and AP Computer Science offers an initial introduction and solid foundation to programming languages. 


Programming is a skill in itself, and different programming languages have many things in common. Once you understand how to program in general, you’ll likely be able to pick up other languages more easily. Even though future college classes will use different coding languages, AP Computer Science establishes important logic skills that are necessary for programming.


Why Taking AP Science Classes Helps Your College Application


If you’re hoping to major in engineering, you should show mastery of the sciences. One way to do that is by taking AP-level natural science courses. 


Taking AP Chemistry


Students who are thinking about a chemical or environmental engineering program should consider taking AP Chemistry. 


For students in other programs, AP Chemistry may help waive the introductory chemistry requirement. Since these classes are so commonly challenging at the college level, prior completion can be a major asset. AP Chemistry will still be tough, but taking it at a high school level is generally easier.


If you’re curious about what these kinds of classes are like at a college level, check out “A Day in the Life of a STEM Major.”


Taking AP Physics


There are three AP Physics classes: I, II, and C. Physics concepts are used in practically all fields of engineering. 


In mechanical, civil, or aerospace engineering, many concepts about forces and dynamics come into play. For electrical engineering, there are concepts related to electricity and magnetism.


All these concepts are related to a foundational understanding of mass, acceleration, and how energy is transferred. These core building blocks that you learn in physics will help explain various engineering concepts.


As a result, AP Physics I demonstrates an ability to contend with these concepts, although it is quite challenging. For students who find it difficult but still scrape by, engineering programs will take note, and that will be an asset to their application.