How Many AP Classes Should You Be Taking?

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

Many colleges look favorably on students who take AP courses; to colleges, a successful AP student is a student who enjoys intellectually stimulating classes and loves to learn. Students who do well in these courses prove their readiness for college. However, this does not necessarily mean that all students must take on a full load of AP courses to prove their readiness. Instead, you should be strategic about the AP courses you decide to take. 

Here are some things to consider when deciding how many APs you should take:

1. How much time do you have?

Because AP courses are so rigorous, you will likely spend more time outside of school studying. Your teachers will likely expect more from you than your regular or Honors teachers. In addition to a larger workload, you will be expected to take a large, final exam at the end of the year. The exam is scored 1 to 5. Colleges will look at your score on the AP exam to determine whether or not you will receive college credit for the class. If you don’t dedicate the time and effort needed to study and prepare for the exam, you may not receive the credit. So it is important to consider how much time you are willing to dedicate to your studies. You wouldn’t want to take an AP course and perform poorly. A low grade does not reflect well on you, even if it is in an AP class.

2. What kind of grade do you think you can receive?

It isn’t enough to have an AP course on your transcript. You must receive a good grade in the AP course as well. You should aim for an A or B in your AP courses. Try to move up to AP classes in courses you are already exceeding in. For example, if you have an A in your honors math class, you should consider taking an AP class next year. Not only will you likely perform well in this course since you have already succeeded in a more advanced course, but you will also display upward trajectory. Upward trajectory means you are constantly improving by taking harder courses than the year before and doing better in them. In fact, getting A’s in regular courses all four years of high school is discouraged! 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!

You should think critically about taking an AP class if you: 

  • Have other courses classes that take up a good amount of your time
  • Have significant responsibilities outside of school
  • Aren’t one to study outside of class, you may want to seriously

3. What interests you?

As mentioned above, you should take courses in things you like or excel in. When you are genuinely interested in the subject you’re learning, studying is less likely to feel like work. You can also use your AP courses to prove your mastery in a certain subject. 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.

ap classes

4. 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. If she were to receive all A’s in a dual enrollment European History course, she may receive college credit for the class. While you may be thinking, dual enrollment is a better option, there are many factors at play that complicate this relationship. For example, some schools will take all of your dual enrollment credits, this may be especially true if you plan to apply in-state. But elite and selective colleges and universities will likely not take all of your dual enrollment courses. 

While testing should not heavily weigh your decision, it is something to consider. Even if you don’t pass the AP exam, colleges still love seeing AP courses on your transcripts.

5. How many AP courses did you take last year?

If you are considering what courses to take next year, you may want to consider the courses you took this 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. 

You may also want to take a moment to access how you did last year and the overall workload. If you took four APs and you believe you could take on more, go for it! If you took four APs and you felt it was very stressful, consider taking four APs next year instead of taking on more responsibility. You want a course schedule that will challenge you but not overwhelm or overwork you.

6. What other courses are you taking?

If you are considering what courses to take next year, you may want to consider the courses you took this 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. 

You may also want to take a moment to access how you did last year and the overall workload. If you took four APs and you believe you could take on more, go for it! If you took four APs and you felt it was very stressful, consider taking four APs next year instead of taking on more responsibility. You want a course schedule that will challenge you but not overwhelm or overwork you.

7. So, how many AP classes should you take?

As we have mentioned, it depends. There are many factors to consider before deciding whether or not you want to take AP classes. The best way to figure out how many APs you want to take is to consider your future goals, college list, and current workload and strike a balance. 

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