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Duke University
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Unweighted GPA: 3.7
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Why You Should Take Non-STEM AP Classes for Engineering

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


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Do you know that you want to be an engineer? You may think that you need to pack your schedule with as many math and science classes as possible to prove your commitment, but this can backfire. While universities want to see that you have goals and have put in the work to achieve them, they also want to know that you’re interested in learning in a broader sense. This article shows why you shouldn’t take AP classes in only STEM subjects and why being well-rounded in academics will help your application and college career.


The Importance of Intellectual Curiosity


If you’re set on majoring in engineering, you definitely want to home in on math and science AP courses. Classes like calculus, computer science, physics, and statistics are all useful for your chosen field, and there are many other science AP courses too. All of these will help you master the relevant mathematical or scientific topics that you’ll need to understand for your career.


But you also need to show interest and experience in the humanities if you want to look well-rounded. College admissions officers love to see that prospective students are “intellectually curious.” This is a frequently used term because they want young people at their schools who have a passion for learning. Rather than focusing entirely on one single pursuit, you should aim to gain knowledge for the sake of knowledge. This means studying subjects outside of the typical STEM path.


Colleges believe that all studies are related in some way. Biology and math may not seem alike, but a knowledge of math can help you understand certain activities in nature. The human body has specific ratios; consider how this has affected our understanding of math, biology, and even art. Admissions officers—and often, professors—think the same way.


Studying the humanities or social sciences as an engineering major can enrich your understanding of the world in general and your studies in your chosen field. Colleges want you to be curious about all aspects of life, so you should branch out and try classes that aren’t directly on your main path.


Standing Out


At most colleges, majors like engineering are highly selective. If you want to improve your chances of admission, it helps to demonstrate that you have a background in various fields. 


When you’re well-rounded as a student, your application will be more interesting, and you’ll stand out to admissions officers. They want to admit students who have a spike or set interest in STEM, but almost every prospective engineering student will have this. If you want to look more impressive and intellectually curious, taking AP classes in humanities subjects that interest you will help.


A balance of 75% advanced STEM classes to 25% advanced humanities classes works for most students. This keeps you looking open-minded about other subjects, which colleges value. It’s an essential part of their overall philosophy toward learning.


Your application will look strongest when it accurately reflects what you’re passionate about. If this is engineering, feel free to take science and math classes, but you should still try to figure out what subjects in the humanities appeal to you and then pursue those at the AP level. It will make you much stronger as an applicant.


Satisfying Requirements


Even if you’re majoring in engineering, most colleges require you to take a few non-STEM courses, like writing, literature, or a foreign language. If you take certain AP courses and do well on the exams, you’ll likely be able to clear these requirements and free up space in your schedule for other classes that you want to take.


AP Language and Composition and AP Literature are the two major AP English courses; taking either and performing well on the corresponding exams could help you satisfy any writing requirements that you need in college. Most universities want you to take at least a couple of writing-intensive courses. 


AP Language will have you studying nonfiction and rhetoric, which can help with the SAT Verbal section because it’s all about interpreting passages, reading comprehension, and essay writing. AP Literature has more to do with the classics of literature, like novels and poetry. It teaches you how literature is an art form and how to get the most out of any work of fiction or poetry. 


Studying a world language at a high level could help you out if you’re planning to study abroad or work internationally or even if you simply enjoy learning about other cultures and feel that you have a good knack for foreign languages. Taking a language at the AP level should allow you to test out of some of the lower levels of the language offered at your college of choice. If you want to study abroad, you might have to prove that you can get by in the language of the country that you’ll be traveling to—some colleges mandate this. If this is the case, an AP class will help you get to that level faster.


You’re probably not going to gain fluency from an AP world language course alone, but you’ll likely test into a class where the instructor is mostly speaking in the language that you’re studying. This will greatly improve your proficiency. 


Some colleges also have a foreign language requirement, so taking an AP class in the subject will help take care of that. If you want to get right into the classes that you’re most interested in and skip a few mandated courses, doing well on AP exams in humanities courses should enable you to do just that. Then, you’ll be able to spend more time in college focusing on your subject of choice.