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AP Courses: How Many Should Your High Schooler Take?

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As the parent of a college-bound high school student, you want your child to be as prepared as possible for the rigors of college coursework. They ought to be able to show colleges that they can not only handle their curriculum but thrive in a fast-paced environment. That’s what makes the AP Program so great. By taking AP classes in high school, your teen can not only gain exposure to the level of difficulty that college classes bring but also potentially gain college credit.


Many high schools offer multiple AP classes for students, and it’s tempting to think that your student should sign up for all of them if they want to impress colleges. However, for your child, this may not be the case. AP classes are time-consuming and can be stressful for a student, so you need to make sure that your teen is balancing their schedule and not overwhelming himself/herself with too many AP classes all at once.


To learn how to achieve that balance and see how many AP courses your high schooler ought to be taking, read on.


The Realities of Taking AP Classes

AP classes are designed to be tougher, more time-intensive, and faster-paced than most classes that your child will take in high school. This is done by design: AP classes are meant to simulate the pace and rigor of college courses in order to prepare high schoolers for the type of curriculum they are going to be dealing with in college.


Since AP classes are more rigorous than most classes, taking too many AP classes in one school year can be overwhelming. A high-achieving student may be tempted to take as many AP classes as possible in order to boost their high school transcript for colleges, but you, as a parent, should be wary of those kinds of decisions. If your student wants to load up on AP exams right away, you ought to sit down with your child and discuss whether that is realistic or reasonable.


You know your child best, so you know what they can handle. As a general rule, however, it’s usually a good idea to start off with one or two AP classes during your first two years of high school and then build up the number as the years go on and as your student gets more used to the style and pace of AP coursework. They should also try to balance their AP classes with some more fun, stress-relieving classes or activities.

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Are AP Classes Necessary?

For college admissions’ sake, it’s always good for your student to show that they can tackle advanced coursework and keep up with college-level courses. AP classes are certainly one way of doing that, but there are definitely other options that your student’s high school may offer as a better alternative.


The most common alternative forms of college-level coursework in high school are IB courses and Dual Credit classes. You should look into these in addition to the AP Program when deciding what classes your student should take in high school. If none of those options work for you, you can also consider taking honors level courses, but just know that taking honors courses won’t earn you any college credit.


If you decide that the AP Program is for you, however, you may be wondering when is the best time to take them/when colleges are going to expect you to take them. Most students don’t take AP classes during their freshman year. In fact, many high schools don’t offer AP courses for freshmen as they have enough on their plate during their first year what with getting used to the new high school environment.


Once your student enters sophomore year, however, they can usually start to take AP classes. It is not necessary for them to take AP classes at this stage, but it would be beneficial for him/her to take at least one or two just to get the feel for how AP classes work and the amount of work that these classes entail.


Junior year is when AP classes become necessary. Your student’s junior year is the year that colleges focus on most heavily when assessing his/her high school transcript. Colleges want to see that students challenged themselves the most during their junior year with advanced coursework, and they want to see that the student succeeded in these courses as well. So, if you’re looking to go into the AP program, your junior year is really when you need to take advantage of the AP courses offered at your school.


During senior year, your student ought to continue taking AP courses just so that colleges know that, even though these courses won’t be including on the transcript that goes with your application, your student is still willing to work hard and further his/her education. At this point, however, AP courses are really more for earning college credit than impressing colleges themselves.


It’s important to note that when choosing which AP classes to take, that there are no AP classes that are better to take than others. Your student should choose the AP subjects that they have a passion for and think they will really excel at. The more they like the subject that they are studying, the more they are likely to do well in the advanced version of the class. When it comes to AP classes, the goal is quality, not quantity.


When It’s Too Much

Yes, having advanced coursework on your student’s transcript is important colleges, but so is GPA. It’s not worth it to take a bunch of AP classes if their grades and, most importantly, their mental and physical health, are going to suffer as a result.


If your child is in the situation where they feel overwhelmed and possibly took on more AP classes than they could handle, you as a parent should step in. Sit them down and have a conversation about dropping a few AP classes or getting a tutor to help to get them through their classes. Remind them that the ultimate goal of these classes is to show colleges that they can thrive in their high school courses. If they’re not thriving, or they’re not happy, it’s time to lessen the course load.


For More Information

Want to find out more about AP classes? Here are some helpful blog posts to get you started:


How To Choose Which AP Courses and Exams To Take

Your 4-Point Checklist To Becoming an AP Scholar

Guides For Acing Your AP Exams

AP Exam Scores: All Your Questions Answered


Looking for help navigating the road to college as a high school student? Download our free guide for 9th graders and our free guide for 10th graders. Our guides go in-depth about subjects ranging from academicschoosing coursesstandardized testsextracurricular activitiesand much more!


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Sadhvi Mathur
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Sadhvi is a recent graduate from the University of California, Berkeley, where she double majored in Economics and Media Studies. Having applied to over 8 universities, each with different application platforms and requirements, she is eager to share her knowledge now that her application process is over. Other than writing, Sadhvi's interests include dancing, playing the piano, and trying not to burn her apartment down when she cooks!