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  • Writer's picturePirie McIndoe

How Many AP Classes Should I Take?

I get asked this question a lot. As with most things, the answer is: it depends. It depends on where you want to go to college, how many AP classes are offered at your school and your interest level in the classes themselves. Some schools offer a limited number of AP classes and a limited number of sections for each.

Academically stronger students are normally given preference for these classes based on teacher and counselor recommendations. If your school offers eight AP courses and you were able to take six, that is considered quite rigorous for your school. At a school that offers 20+ AP courses, six is going to look light to more selective universities.

Dual Enrollment

For students who are dual-enrolled in both high school and college classes, this can complicate the issue. Many more students are taking advantage of this option, and often, these college-level courses are counted as the equivalent of an AP course.

If you are dual-enrolled, you may decide to take fewer AP classes at your high school. My best advice here is to talk with your school’s guidance counselor and an experienced college advisor.

GPA Impact

Most schools use a weighted GPA, offering higher quality points for honors classes and higher still for AP courses. Thus, taking more honors and AP courses has the potential to drive up a student’s GPA if they do well.

There is, however, a downside. Students who perform poorly in AP classes will often give colleges pause, worrying that the student is not necessarily prepared for college work.

Okay, enough already of the “it depends” double talk, how many do I really need to take?

There is a college for everyone

I’m going to start with what is expected by the most elite colleges: the Ivy’s and near Ivy’s. The answer here is, to take the most academically rigorous schedule you can handle while still getting virtually straight A’s.

But remember, getting into elite schools takes more than great academics.

Every year there are students with straight A’s, 15+ AP classes, a 35+ ACT or 1560+ SAT who get turned down by multiple elite universities. The competition is that stiff. Still, having more AP classes, and good grades in all, gives you a better chance than someone with less.

So, how about the really good students who want to go to a good school, but still enjoy life?

Yes, there are good schools you can get into. I’ve had students accepted at schools like Wisconsin, Georgia, NC State, and similar universities with just five AP classes. Of course, many of their other courses were honors and they still had strong grades overall.

Okay, how about me, a solid B student with a mix of academic and honors classes and just a couple of AP classes; can I still go to a good four-year college? Yes, you can! There are many excellent colleges that offer an outstanding curriculum, and value, for students who prefer a more reasonable course load.

I know successful executives who graduated from Western Michigan, Niagara University, and UNC Charlotte (Go 49ers!), and many similar colleges. These are not lesser schools, they simply have easier admissions standards, compared to some other schools.

Remember, 10 years after graduation, your success is not going to be based on where you went to school; it will be based on your accomplishments in the workforce!

Earning College Credit

So, if 3 is a passing grade, every college will give me credit – right? Sadly, no. It varies widely by school. Here are some examples:

  • The UNC System: Students earn credit for most AP classes if they score a 3 or better. However, not every university in the system accepts every course. Plus, a 4 or 5 may allow a student to bypass a lower-level course and opt for a more advanced course instead.

  • Brown University: Advanced Placement courses help you get admitted, but are not eligible for course credit at Brown. Students may use certain AP scores to enroll in higher-level courses and/or to satisfy concentration requirements.

  • University of Pennsylvania: With the exception of the Foreign Language requirement, no AP credit or waivers can be used to fulfill the General Education Requirements.

  • Yale: grants AP credit for scores of 5 in English (Lang or Lit), some foreign languages, Art History, Music Theory, and Physics. It also offers 1 credit for a score of 4 on Calculus BC, and 2 credits for a score of 5 on Calculus BC.

You can see the slight variations among these schools. If you want to know the most up-to-date information about a college you are interested in, review the information on the school’s website or call the Admissions Office.

Most Relevant AP Classes

Once again, this depends on your future course of study.

  • Students with an interest in engineering will normally want to take Calculus, Statistics, Physics, and a selection of other AP science and computer science courses, showing they are ready for the challenges of an engineering curriculum.

  • Students interested in a future medical, dental, or science field should consider Biology, Chemistry, Environmental Science, Statistics, and a selection of other courses that might include Calculus, Computer Science, Psychology, and more.

  • Students interested in business should consider Statistics, Calculus, Microeconomics, Macroeconomics, and Computer Science.

Of course, this does not mean you should ignore courses in other subjects. Many students will opt for AP courses in place of honors courses in both Social Studies and English.

In fact, many of these are not as challenging as some of the math and science classes (at least for some students), and this is a great way to add some rigor without driving yourself crazy.

What are the easiest and hardest AP classes?

Students who love math breeze through calculus and statistics, while others find them impossible. Students who love to read, often find the English courses fun.

No matter what class you take, you MUST study and work hard to obtain a good grade and score. The College Board does not give out a 3, 4, or 5 for free! That being said, there have been surveys of past students, and this is what they have said.

Easier AP Classes

AP Psychology, AP Human Geography, AP Comp Sci Principles, AP Government and Politics, AP Comparative Government, AP Computer Science A. Many of these courses have a lot of information, but the concepts are usually easier to follow. So, depending on your teacher, there can be a lot of work, but the work is, for many students, not as hard.

Harder AP Classes

As you might expect, this includes all of the AP Physics classes, AP Chemistry, AP Biology, AP Calculus, and AP English Literature. AP English Lit makes this list because some students don’t love to read. These students found the class to be very time-consuming and the pass rate is lower compared to AP English Language and Composition.

I believe part of the reason for the lower pass rate is that AP English Literature is generally taken in senior year, and by May, many students have senioritis so bad they don’t study or care if they pass. They have already been accepted to college.

U.S. History, World History, European History, Human Geography, Art History, and English Language and Composition can all be time-consuming, as there is a lot of information to be absorbed during class. These courses often have more reading, and the exams are a little tougher (at least historically) than those in the easier category above.

Know your competition

You can find information on a variety of websites that tell you everything from elite schools being satisfied with 6-7 AP courses, or that they expect at least a dozen or more. Remember, top universities do not accept every applicant who meets minimum baseline standards.

They also tend to accept a limited number of students from any one high school. Sometimes, class rank is factored in, which means students who did well in more AP courses get rewarded.

The competition to get into top universities, both public and private, is increasing each year. Parents routinely tell me how lucky they are, knowing they would not get accepted today if they were applying to their alma mater.

Stay balanced

Students should take a course load that they can handle. High school is a time to learn about life, who you are, and who you want to be; not just 70+ hours of academic work each week.

There are lots of good colleges where you can get a great education. I’ve done work at hundreds of them. The college admissions process is complex and crazy competitive. Contact me if you want to explore your options.

Fun Fact… Time to feed the squirrels!

Stressed? Join the Squirrel Club! Walk around the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor on a Sunday afternoon, and it's very possible you will see dozens of students feeding squirrels peanuts.

Far from being an isolated act of animal welfare, the weekly feeding is a regular engagement of the Squirrel Club - an officially sanctioned student group dedicated to nothing more than feeding peanuts to squirrels. With over 400 members, the squirrels in Ann Arbor don't go hungry!

About An Advisor for College

My name is Pirie McIndoe, and I am the founder of An Advisor for College. Having worked with over 350 colleges and universities during my 35 years in the higher education market, I bring a unique perspective to the college admissions process. I know what college admissions officers are looking for as they seek to develop a diverse student body. I am fully invested in each student’s success; helping them present the best version of themselves for college consideration. Contact me to learn how I can help you navigate this complex and competitive process.


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