How Many AP Classes Does the Ivy League Want?


For students considering the most selective colleges in the country, nearly every element of their high school experience will be evaluated during the application process. Admissions committees at the top college across the country are looking to admit the top students from across the country. This means that it isn’t just your SAT scores, grades, and class rank that get a good look. Even smaller things, like the specific classes that you choose to take, will be under the microscope.


This often leads to students wondering if their course selections will make the cut. What exactly does the Ivy League want to see? Are honors courses enough? What about Advanced Placement (AP) classes? In this post, we’ll take a close look at how many AP classes are typically expected by Ivy League schools. To learn more, keep reading.



Why Are AP Classes Important?

To really understand why the Ivy League is interested in your AP course load, you need to understand what AP classes are exactly. In short, AP classes are a set of 38 (and counting) college-level courses that you can choose from while you’re still in high school. They are based on a standardized set of curriculum determined by the College Board and administered by teachers at your high school who have completed AP teacher training and professional development programs.


AP classes generally last the entire academic year and are usually the equivalent of a single-semester of college or university level work. All AP classes culminate in a standardized assessment that is graded on a five-point scale. Students who receive a score of three or higher are considered to have passed. At some colleges, passing scores can qualify for college credit or satisfy prerequisites for higher level classes.


As such, competitive colleges are often interested in your performance in AP classes because this can translate to your ability to succeed on college-level work. The more AP classes you take, the more college-level work you’ve tackled during your high school years.



Is There a Magic Number for AP Classes?

Of course, as with most things related to college admissions, there is no magic number of AP classes that qualifies you for the Ivy League. Many students have been accepted to Ivy League schools without having taken a single AP class, and many more students have been rejected by the Ivy League despite having taken a dozen APs. Unfortunately, there’s no simple formula to calculate how many you should take.


That being said, there are a few factors that weigh in to help determine how many AP classes you should take. First of all, you will need to consider how many AP classes are offered at your school. Some schools don’t offer AP classes at all. In this case, not taking AP classes won’t hinder your chances (though you could get a leg up by self-studying for some AP exams).


At other high schools, only a handful of AP classes are offered. If this is the case at your school, you should try to capitalize on these opportunities by taking the few APs that are available.

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Another point worth considering is that Ivy Leagues generally look for students who stand above the rest of the crowd. These are students who take advantage of the opportunities available to them, who take initiative to create opportunities where none exist, and who succeed at the highest levels possible.


No matter how many AP classes are offered at your school, you should be sure that you are pursuing what is considered the most challenging course track possible. This is actually a question asked of your guidance counselor on your college application, so ask him or her if you aren’t certain whether or not you’re on track.


Finally, remember that you will definitely be compared to other students from your high school who apply to the same colleges. If these students all have taken loads of AP classes and you haven’t, the admissions committee will likely be less inclined to choose you over them if it boils down to it.



If My School Offers Extensive AP Classes, How Many Should I Take?

This is a slightly easier question to answer, but there’s still no magic number. In general, you should aim to take between 7-12 AP classes if there are endless possibilities available. Try to start light by tackling one of the high-interest but lower-key AP classes during your freshman year. Pick things up a bit by taking two your sophomore year, and then really ramp it up by taking three or four your junior and senior years. This will also give you plenty of time to get used to the workload expected of an AP class.


Keep in mind, though, that not all AP classes are created equal. You’re better off taking AP classes in subject areas that genuinely interest you and in core subject areas. Try to identify classes related to possible career aspirations or other interests. Don’t overload yourself with specialty AP classes if you have no intention of pursuing these interests again. You should be able to justify the classes that you select.


Furthermore, you need to be able to succeed in the classes you take. If you enroll in five AP classes during your junior year, but are only able to pull C’s in them, you aren’t doing yourself any favors. Instead, you’d be better off taking three AP classes in core subjects or other subject areas that interest you, and then taking an honor class or two to round out your course selection.


Ultimately, the exact number of AP classes that you take won’t be as important as how well you do in them and how well they round out other aspects of your application, but don’t discount them either. You never know what will be the deciding factor in your college admissions so you want to make sure that you consider every angle as you select your classes.


For more tips about course selection and making sure that you’ve done everything in your power to prepare for college admissions, consider the benefits of the CollegeVine Near Peer Mentorship Program, which provides access to practical advice on topics from course selection and extracurriculars to college applications and career aspirations, all from successful college students.


For more information about AP classes, see these CollegeVine posts:


Should I Take AP/IB/Honors Classes?

How to Choose Which AP Courses and Exams to Take

Can AP Tests Actually Save You Thousands of Dollars?

Ultimate Guide to Self-Studying AP Exams

Which AP Exam Should You Self-Study?

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Kate Sundquist
Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.