How Many AP Classes Should You Be Taking?

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    Advanced Placement (AP) courses are college-level courses offered by the College Board, the same organization that administers the SAT. These courses can be taken for college credit and are often seen as the most rigorous courses you can take in high school. 

    Students who excel in AP classes demonstrate their willingness to challenge themselves, as well as their ability to succeed in college-level classes. This is why college admissions officers tend to favor students who have taken multiple AP courses. But how many AP classes do colleges want to see on your transcripts? And how many AP classes do you need for ivy league college applications?

    College counselors recommend that students strive to take 5-8 AP classes throughout their high school career, especially if they are interested in attending a highly-selective institution such as an Ivy League college. That said, you shouldn’t feel pressured to take more AP classes than you can comfortably manage. Rather, you should be strategic about the AP courses you decide to take.

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    5 questions to consider when choosing AP classes

    Coming up with your ideal course load takes honesty and reflection. Discuss potential classes with your teachers, parents, and high school guidance counselor. Compare Honors vs AP classes and the teachers who offer them. You may even want to think about taking easier AP classes with high passing rates. There are lots of factors to consider when trying to answer the question, how many AP classes can you take without getting overwhelmed? To start, reflect on the 5 questions below:


    How much time do you have?

    AP classes often take more time and effort than other courses. It’s also likely that your teachers will have higher standards and greater expectations. In addition to a larger workload, you will be expected to take a large, final exam at the end of the year. This exam is scored on a scale of 1 to 5 and colleges will look at your final score to determine whether or not you will receive college credit.

    If you don’t dedicate enough time and effort to prepare for the final AP exam, you may not receive college credit. This is why it is important to consider how much time you are willing to dedicate to each of your courses. Overall, knowing how to study for AP classes is a crucial component to enrolling. After all, you wouldn’t want to take an AP course and perform poorly. A low grade never looks good, even if it’s in an AP class.

    You’ll also want to consider your other responsibilities, such as extracurricular activities, after school jobs, and college applications. Reflect on your goals for the year to determine how to best structure your time.


    What kind of grade do you think you can receive?

    As previously stated, a low grade never looks good, even if it’s in an advanced course. This is why you should only take AP courses in subjects you already excel in. 

    For example, if you receive an A in your honors math class, you should consider taking an AP math class next year. Not only will you likely perform well, but you will also have the opportunity to display an upward trajectory. Upward trajectory means you are constantly improving by taking (and succeeding in) more difficult courses than the year before. 

    College admissions officers value students who challenge themselves by taking increasingly more difficult courses. In fact, getting A’s in regular courses all four years of high school is discouraged! Rather, you should always try to move up and do better each year. In other words, each year is another opportunity to become a better student by challenging yourself! Read more about the importance of course rigor here.


    What interests you?

    You should take advanced courses in subjects that genuinely interest you. This will make it easier to stay motivated. Ideally, your AP courses should reflect your future plans. For example, if you plan to become a doctor, you may want to take AP classes in math and science. AP Biology, for example, would be an excellent course for a premed student. Similarly, if you plan to major in Public Policy, taking AP government or AP US History would be an excellent way to display your interest in that area.

    You may also want to consider reading our article, List of AP Classes and Highest Passing Rates while you compare different course options.


    Are you a good test taker?

    Unlike dual enrollment courses, you do not receive college credit just for passing the course. AP courses rely on AP exams to gauge your level of mastery of the subject matter. For example, imagine a student who earned A’s all year long in AP European History but got nervous during the AP exam at the end of the year; if she receives a 2 on the AP exam, she cannot earn college credit.

    While testing should not heavily weigh your decision, it is something to consider. Especially if you are not a good test-taker. That said, it’s important to remember that test-optional admissions policies are becoming more and more popular. In other words, colleges recognize that standardized tests are not always an accurate measure of ability. So even if you don’t pass the AP exam, colleges still love seeing AP courses on your transcripts!


    How many AP courses did you take last year?

    Did you take any AP classes last year? If so, how many? You want to make sure you maintain or exceed the number of AP courses you took the year before. This is especially important for juniors who are going into their senior year. The last thing you want to do is take less challenging courses in your senior year than in your junior year. To many college admissions officers, this may look like senioritis kicking in. 

    Before you decide on your courses, take a moment to assess how you did last year. Was your workload manageable? Or were you too stressed? Remember, you want a schedule that will challenge but not overwhelm or overwork you.

    So, how many AP classes should you be taking?

    Now that we’ve gone over some key considerations related to course selections, let’s take a moment to be more specific: Are 6 AP classes enough? Are 9 AP classes enough? How many AP classes is too many?

    In general, college counselors recommend taking 5-8 AP courses. That said, there are lots of factors to consider when enrolling in AP classes, beyond the ones previously mentioned. The other biggest factor to consider is which AP classes your high school currently offers. If your high school doesn’t offer many AP classes — or primarily offers AP classes in subjects you are not interested in taking — you may want to consider taking an AP class online or self-studying for an exam. Reach out to your high school guidance counselor to get a better idea of what opportunities may be available to you.

    It’s also important to remember that colleges recognize that every high school is different. This is why college admissions officers will assess your college application in the context of the specific high school you attended. In other words, they won’t penalize you for not having as many opportunities as other applicants.

    How many AP classes should you take junior year?

    You’re likely wondering, how many AP classes should I take in junior year? Junior year is the most important year academically. It’s the year colleges will look at most closely on your transcripts. Therefore, you should strive to take as many AP classes as you can reasonably manage. For example, if you took 2 AP classes your sophomore year, maybe aim for 3 AP classes. Similarly, if you only took 1 AP class sophomore year, consider taking 2 AP classes.

    Key takeaways and moving forward

    The best way to figure out how many APs you want to take is to consider your future goals, college list, and current workload. Then you’ll need to strike a balance. For instance, if you’re focused on coming up with the perfect SAT study plan and schedule template, you may not have time to take that extra AP class you’ve got your eye on. 

    If you are a rising senior, you’ll want to consider our College Planning Timeline for 12th Grade Students. This will help you anticipate additional college-related responsibilities. Similarly, if you’re a rising junior, you may want to look over our College Planning Checklist For Juniors before you commit to next year’s course load. 

    College admissions officers favor students who take challenging courses. But only if they can perform well in them! Remember, you want to challenge yourself without overwhelming yourself.

    Contact a Prepory college admissions coach and start your college admissions journey.

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