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How Many AP Classes Does the Ivy League Want?

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Getting into the Ivy League is no easy task. In fact, with acceptance rates stooping well into the single digits, simply getting top test scores and a perfect GPA isn’t enough to guarantee admissions. So, it’s no wonder that we often hear from students wondering just what it takes to get in.


One question we hear a lot has to do with course load. Just how many AP classes are enough for these extremely selective universities? Will taking more increase your shot at acceptance? To learn more about how many AP classes you need to take to get into the Ivy League, don’t miss this post.


How Many AP Classes Does the Ivy League Expect?


Like with most questions about elite college admissions, this one is hard to pin down. There’s no secret formula to getting into the Ivy League (believe us, if there were, we’d know about it!). Instead, the answer depends on a number of different factors.


Basically, the Ivy League and other highly selective colleges look for students who make the most of their opportunities. This means that if some AP classes are available at your school, you should take them. If none are available, it won’t be held against you. If many are available, your choice becomes a little more complex.


Ultimately, if endless AP options exist at your high school, you should aim to take between 7-12. You should start slowly during your freshman year. Think of this as the time to test the waters with a high-interest but lower-key course offering, like psychology or human geography. Once you’re accustomed to the AP workload, you can add another course or two during sophomore year. By junior and senior year you should be looking to take three or four AP classes.


No matter how many AP options exist at your high school, keep in mind that you need to take the most challenging load possible if you want to be eligible for Ivy League schools. You’ll want  to talk to your counselor if you aren’t sure how to work out your schedule.


Finally, remember that college admissions aren’t just selective—they’re competitive. You will be compared to other students, and specifically to other students from your high school, if they’ve applied to the same colleges. You need to make sure that your course load is as impressive, if not more so, than the students you’re up against.


What Do the Experts Say?


While no Ivy Leagues offer a specific AP course requirement, they do generally all agree that they are looking for students who challenge themselves and maximize their opportunities.


Princeton’s admissions website notes:


We consider it a promising sign when students challenge themselves with advanced courses in high school. We understand that not all secondary schools offer the same range of advanced courses, but our strongest candidates have taken full advantage of the academic opportunities available to them in their high schools.


Columbia’s stance is less specific but has the same gist, noting “We hope to see that a student is avidly pursuing intellectual growth with a rigorous course load.”


Dartmouth too offers no specific guidelines about AP classes, but does state, “We have no set requirements for high school courses completed. We look for students who have taken the most challenging curriculum available to them.”

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Do Ivy Leagues View Some AP Courses As Better?


There are two factors to prioritize when picking AP classes. First, choose courses that highlight your strengths, in areas that might be the focus of a future major or career. If you apply to a specific program, colleges will look for evidence that you are capable of a high level of work in that field. AP classes are a simple way of establishing your prowess in specific areas of study.


Second, choose classes that are genuinely interesting to you. It isn’t common to find high school courses in psychology or music theory, so if these topics seem interesting, AP classes are a great way to explore them in-depth. Plus, if you’re interested in something, you’ll be more motivated to master the material.


This being said, Ivy League admissions committees sometimes prefer to see AP classes in the core course areas, as these are more common areas of future study. By looking at how much credit the Ivies award for certain AP classes, you can see which ones might look more impressive on your transcript.


Take Harvard, for example, where a score of five on the European History or Chemistry AP will earn you eight credits, whereas a score of five on the Comparative Government and Politics AP will not earn you any credit at all. You can see the entire table of Harvard credit for AP classes on their Advanced Placement Exams page for current students. AP classes that align with core curriculum may be viewed as more valuable by some admissions committees.


What if Your High School Doesn’t Have AP Courses?


If your high school doesn’t offer AP courses, you aren’t completely out of luck. There are still some great options available that will highlight your ability to tackle college-level work and show off your willingness to take initiative.


First of all, it is possible to take AP exams without formally enrolling in AP classes. This is called self-studying, and it is a common approach for students who either don’t have access to AP classes, or who want to take more extensive AP classes than their school provides. To learn more about self-studying, check out our post The Ultimate Guide to Self-Studying AP Exams.


Another option is to enroll in online or local college courses. Taking college classes while you’re still in high school shows off your areas of strength and makes it clear that you’re capable of college-level academics. Learn more about this option in our post Should I Take College Classes Over the Summer?


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!


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?


Curious about your chances of acceptance to your dream school? Our free chancing engine takes into account your GPA, test scores, extracurriculars, and other data to predict your odds of acceptance at over 500 colleges across the U.S. We’ll also let you know how you stack up against other applicants and how you can improve your profile. Sign up for your free CollegeVine account today to get started!

Kate Sundquist
Senior Blogger

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.