Laura Berlinsky-Schine 3 min read Choosing Classes

How Many AP Classes Should You Take?

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What’s Covered:

 

As a high school student hoping to attend an elite college, you know that you need to show adcoms that you’re up to the challenge of excelling in a rigorous curriculum. And that curriculum should generally include AP courses.

 

But how many APs do you actually need to take? Let’s take a look at the factors that affect your curriculum.

 

Factors Impacting the Number of AP Classes You Should Take

 

1) Your dream schools

 

For the most part, the more selective the school you hope to attend, the more APs you should take — within reason. For Ivies and other top 30 schools, aim for 8-12 or more, if feasible. For the top 30-50 schools, 5-8 will usually suffice. 

 

2) Prerequisites needed

 

You often won’t be able to take a majority of AP classes until you’ve fulfilled certain prerequisites. For example, you won’t be able to enroll in AP Calculus (AB or BC) until you have a solid foundation in algebra, geometry, and precalculus. AP foreign language courses also require several years of study in your chosen language. This will affect which and how many AP courses you can pursue.

 

3) Your years in high school

 

As a freshman, you’ll take one, if any, APs. Usually, the further you’ve advanced in your high school career, the more AP courses you’ll be able to take. Be sure to take honors classes that will lead to AP courses in your later years of high school. If you’re aiming for a top school, use this as a guideline, remembering that all high schools are different and may have rules about what you can take each year:

 

Freshmen: 0-2 

Sophomores: 1-3

Juniors: 3-5

Seniors: 4-6

 

4) Which courses are most relevant

 

If you’re deciding between or among different AP courses, consider which ones are more relevant to your prospective major. Let’s say you’d like to be on the pre-med track, which might mean a major in biology. You’ll want to take plenty of science and math APs, like Biology, Chemistry, Calculus, and Statistics. However, English and history-related APs aren’t as relevant to your major, so those aren’t as critical for your transcript. On the other hand, if you are thinking about pursuing an English major in college, taking APs like English Literature & Composition and Art History would be relevant. 

 

5) Your schedule

 

It’s important to make yourself a competitive candidate for admission and take a rigorous curriculum — but not at the expense of your mental health and extracurricular activities. Don’t overload on so many AP courses that you’re not able to do anything else. 

 

While building your schedule, think about the difficulty of different APs, bearing in mind that courses can vary by school and teachers. For example, students on average score lower on the Physics I exam than on Calculus BC. Try to establish a good balance of AP and honors or regular courses, prioritizing APs that complement your interests, strengths, and career aspirations.

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What If Your School Doesn’t Offer APs?

 

Your application will be evaluated in the context of your school and the opportunities available to you. If your high school doesn’t offer AP courses, this won’t be held against you — nor will it if your school only offers a handful of AP courses. If, for instance, your school offers three AP courses and you take two of them, your application will likely be more impressive than a candidate who took two APs out of the 18 offered at their school.

 

Ultimately, you should aim to take the most challenging curriculum you can considering the opportunities available to you, within reason (meaning, don’t overdo to the detriment of your mental health or at the expense of your extracurricular life). That might mean no APs at all if they’re simply not available.

 

You can self-study AP exams if you’re hoping to boost your profile, but know that colleges won’t expect you to do so.

 

How Do AP Classes Impact Your College Chances?

 

The ideal number of AP courses is different for each individual. Many factors go into your admissions decision, including the rigor of your curriculum, your extracurricular activities, and even your ethnicity. That’s why we recommend using our chancing engine. This free tool will help you understand the odds of admission for your specific case, taking into account personal factors.

 

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine
Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University, where she majored in Creative Writing and minored in History. She lives in Brooklyn, New York and works as a freelance writer specializing in education. She dreams of having a dog.