What AP Courses Should You Take? 7 Things to Consider
- Factors to Consider When Choosing AP Classes
- How Many AP Classes Should I Take?
- How Do AP Classes Impact My College Chances?
It’s come time for you to choose your courses for next school year, and you’re trying to determine which AP courses are best for you to take. It can be difficult to decide, especially considering the many factors at play—your interests, your family’s thoughts, your actual abilities, what you think your future college wants to see, your career goals, and more.
This can feel overwhelming, and while it might be difficult to make sense of it all, you’re taking the right step towards an informed decision by reading this blog post! Keep reading for advice on which AP courses you should take.
Factors to Consider When Choosing AP Classes
1. Your Strengths and Weaknesses
Perhaps the most important thing to think about when considering which AP courses to take is your level of comfort and/or experience with the subject material. This is not to say that you shouldn’t try new things—because you absolutely should—but it’s important to think about which courses you’ve enjoyed and done well in in the past.
If you are an avid reader and a star student in English, then AP English Literature or AP English Language might be right for you. By the same kind of logic, if you break out in hives every time you remember the parametric curves of pre-calc, then maybe AP Calculus AB isn’t the right course for you to take at the AP level.
Your level of interest in a course’s subject matter will usually determine how hard you’ll work—and thus, how well you’ll do—in the course. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try hard in subjects that don’t initially interest you, especially if these interests relate to the career path or college major that you might be interested in later on. You never know what new interests or abilities you might discover by trying something new!
2. Your School
AP courses differ in reputation from school to school. As you decide which courses you want to sign up for, make sure you know who is teaching them. A kind and supportive teacher can make or break an AP course. If you don’t know the teacher of a course that you are on the fence about taking, consider introducing yourself during lunch or after school to see what they are like and what their teaching style is.
If a particular AP course (or teacher) has a reputation at your school for being extremely difficult or unenjoyable, take this into consideration. At the same time, don’t write them off entirely because of a few negative perceptions.
Another thing to keep in mind is that some schools will run different schedules for AP courses. At certain schools, a course like AP Biology, for example, might last for 4 marking periods instead of 2. Be sure to remain aware of things like this and think about how they might affect your other courses.
3. Your Life Outside of School
It’s important to consider your pre-existing commitments and obligations when deciding which AP courses to take. Think about clubs, family responsibilities, jobs, volunteering, and sports teams that will still occupy large chunks of your time as you are taking these APs. Will adding one more AP class hinder your ability to maintain a school-life balance? How can you manage your commitments and avoid spreading yourself too thin?
Also, think about whether or not your schedule will change throughout the year. If your soccer season is in the fall, for example, then maybe you should take an easier course load in the fall and load up on APs in the spring when you know you’ll have more time to study and do the work for these courses. If you’re a rising senior and your college applications are due in the fall, then this is another element to keep in mind when choosing your APs.
4. Achieving Academic Balance
It’s always better to do well in a few APs than to spread yourself too thin and do poorly in a bunch of APs. Achieving balance within your class schedule means figuring out which APs are generally difficult, then talking to your peers about how things operate specifically at your school.
Pay attention to your instincts if your potential course load feels like too much. To be successful in your classes, it is paramount that you avoid overworking yourself to the point of burnout. Set yourself up for success from the start.
One quick note: Don’t think that you can get away with taking all easy courses in your senior year. Colleges will look at the courses that you plan to take in your last year of high school and take these into account when evaluating your application!
Some APs will require prerequisite courses or other prerequisite skills, so be sure to talk to your guidance counselor about this before you choose your APs.
Again, it isn’t a bad thing to take an AP course in a subject you have no experience in, as long as you’re aware that the learning curve may be larger for you than for other students. You might not do as well in AP Computer Science, for example, as someone who has been coding since they were in kindergarten.
That said, if you’re having trouble keeping up in one of your AP courses, remember that you can always seek out extra help from teachers, your parents, tutors, or peers if necessary.
6. Your Career Goals
The rigor of AP classes makes them a great place to put your career goals to the test. For example, a student who wants to be a rocket scientist might want to take AP Physics to ensure that they can be successful in the subject that will guide their career path. An aspiring entrepreneur might want to take AP Macroeconomics, to make sure they have a mind for the markets.
In addition to testing your skills, it’s important to make sure that you enjoy the field you plan to go into. Of course, there is always a possibility that you will hate the courses that you thought you would love (or vice versa), but through these newfound discoveries, you might be able to better determine what your interests and skills are for the future!
With regard to college admissions, admissions officers will always be impressed by a student making an effort to gain upper-level skills in their area of interest.
7. Your Colleges’ Credit Policies
A large part of the appeal of AP courses is the potential to receive college credit based on your AP exam scores. Some colleges will offer you credit for any passing grade on an AP exam, while others require students to meet specific thresholds—typically a score of 4 or 5—to receive credit for some or all AP exams.
Additionally, the type of credit you receive for your AP exams will vary from school to school. For example, some schools might accept a passing AP Biology exam score to satisfy an entry-level requirement for a biology major, while other schools will only accept AP credits as elective credits, not as credits toward degree requirements.
If you’re taking an AP course with the end goal of taking the course’s exam to receive college credit, make sure that you set a reasonable bar for success. Look into the policies of your potential colleges and utilize the College Board’s search engine for AP crediting at specific schools.
How Many AP Classes Should I Take?
The answer to this question depends heavily on how competitive your target colleges and universities are. In general, more competitive colleges are looking for lots of AP courses, while less competitive colleges may view them as more of a bonus!
Students hoping for admission to top 20 schools should strive for the following breakdown:
- First Year: 0-2 AP classes
- Sophomore Year: 1-3 AP classes
- Junior Year: 3-5 AP classes
- Senior Year: 4-6 AP classes
Other students will make themselves competitive at selective state schools—like University of California – Irvine, University of California – San Diego, University of North Carolina, University of Virginia, University of Texas, and Florida State University—through success in 6 or more AP courses.
Finally, your chances of acceptance at less competitive colleges and universities will be boosted by success in 2-4 AP courses.
How Do AP Classes Impact My College Chances?
Admissions officers care a lot about academic rigor, and taking AP classes is one way to show your commitment to challenging yourself in your education.
While demonstrating academic rigor is important, it is also important to get strong grades. For many schools and universities, the first step in evaluating a student’s application involves converting a student’s academic record into a number called an Academic Index, which determines whether or not their application is even read.
A student’s Academic Index takes into account GPA, class rank, and SAT/ACT scores. Because AP classes often have a large effect on a student’s GPA and rank, they will affect a student’s AI. That means that, if you don’t think you can get a B or higher in an AP class, you might want to consider taking the regular or honors version of the course.
If you are starting to think about what schools you should apply to, we recommend that you use CollegeVine’s chancing engine. This tool will show you how your course rigor compares to that of admitted students. From there, you can know if your AP classes are putting you on the right track or if you need to make changes.
For more information and advice about AP courses, check out these blog posts: