How Many APs Should I Take In High School?
Advanced Placement, or AP classes are intro-level college courses following a standardized College Board created curriculum offered at many high schools nationwide. These classes are often accelerated in nature, and designed to prepare you for a more challenging college course load. There are 38 different AP courses and exams in total, ranging from subjects such as Calculus to Art History.
Taking AP classes can show your strength as a student in your college applications, especially since succeeding in them and scoring well on their end-of-year-AP exams will show how you, as a high school student, would excel in college level courses. While you don’t have to take all of the AP classes your school offers, taking a few, especially during junior year or senior year, will definitely boost your college applications.
So how do you know if AP classes are a good fit for you? And how many should you take over the course of your high school experience?
Why Take AP Classes?
Because AP classes are structured similarly to intro-level college courses, and are designed to cover the same material, taking AP classes in high school is a great way to explore courses that you may be interested in taking in college.
It’s also a good way to demonstrate skill and mastery of material, and show colleges that you are capable of challenging yourself and adapting to harder classes.
If you do well on the AP exam and pass, many colleges and universities may even offer you college credit, and allow you to skip over some of their introductory coursework. Taking AP tests at the end of the year might seem like a lot of hard work, but you should still work hard to make sure you’re scoring the best you can.
Furthermore, AP courses are often the highest level and most challenging classes offered in high-schools so they can certainly offer an academic boost and demonstrate initiative in your schoolwork. Even if you already take many honors classes at school, AP courses are meant to be more rigorous and therefore more impressive to selective colleges like Ivy League schools.
How Many AP Classes Does the Average Student Take
While there are 38 total AP classes and exams offered worldwide, it’s completely unreasonable to expect a student to take that many (or even half that many) AP courses. Although over 80% of high schools in the United States offer some type of AP class, the average number of AP classes taught hovers somewhere around 8.
Depending on your demographics, academic circumstances and overall AP culture of your area, the average number of APs taken by a student may vary significantly.
If you’re curious about the AP enrollment rates at your school, talking to older students who gained admission into your dream colleges can give you a good overall idea of how many you should aim to take. You can also chat with your guidance counselor, who will have specific knowledge about how many AP classes you should take depending on your target schools — they might even know the test score average for each AP class your school offers!
However, the number of AP classes is not as important as demonstrating academic initiative and rigor given your school’s class offerings.
Factors Impacting How Many AP Classes You Should Take
There are a couple of things that will impact the number of AP classes you eventually decide to take in high school, all of which you should consider when deciding how many to enroll in.
What Colleges Are You Applying To?
Different colleges and universities may want to see you take different numbers of AP courses in high school. Generally, highly selective schools will want to see you take as many AP courses and exams as possible (and do well in them), whereas less selective schools or state universities will care less about the rigor of your transcript.
Admissions officers want to see how you took advantage of what your school had to offer, so if your school doesn’t have as many Advanced Placement courses as other schools, don’t worry — they won’t compare you to students from other schools that offer many more AP courses.
Overall, however, it’s important for you to challenge yourself in your schoolwork, and take classes that are reasonably difficult and engaging.
What Prerequisites Are Needed?
Sometimes, high schools will require you to take many prerequisite classes before you can take an AP course (for example, you may need to take Honors Chemistry before being eligible to take AP Chemistry, or you may need to take two years of English before being eligible to take AP Literature).
As such, the number of AP courses you are eligible to take per year may be limited. Especially as a freshman, when you have very little coursework under your belt, many schools may not let you take as many APs as you might want.
It’s important to look into class and registration guidelines for your high school so you know what AP policies look like. This way, you can plan to take necessary prerequisite classes and eventually build up to taking the AP course.
Which AP Courses Are Most Relevant?
Furthermore, when thinking about the number of APs you want to take, you also want to think about how relevant the course is to your future plans and goals. While AP classes are a great way for you to explore different subjects and fields, taking an AP class that you’re not interested in “just to take it” and to have that extra AP on your transcript is a waste of time.
If you’re set on becoming an English major in college, for example, definitely prioritize taking classes such as AP Language and AP Literature over classes such as AP Macroeconomics, AP Physics, or AP Calculus.
Focus on taking the hardest classes you can in the areas that are most interesting and relevant to your academic path first, before branching out to different subjects. That being said, if you can show strength in a variety of areas, colleges love seeing that you’re a well-rounded student who can tackle many different subjects.
What Does Your School Schedule Look Like?
If your schedule is loaded with extracurriculars, sports, or other time consuming out of school activities, you may want to consider taking fewer AP classes. AP courses are generally rigorous, and often require more studying, more homework and more review than other classes.
While you may be otherwise capable of taking more AP classes, having a balanced schedule during the school year and avoiding academic burnout are important factors to success.
Filling your schedule with many AP classes as well as many extracurriculars may cause you to sacrifice your academics for your out of school activities (or vise versa).
Ultimately, it’s better to get good grades in non-AP classes than bad grades in AP classes. The number of AP classes to take is a personal one, and only you know how much you are capable of taking on.
Are You Prepping For The SAT Or ACT?
Many students who take the SAT or ACT during their junior year will feel the pressure of preparing for those while also completing work and studying for their AP classes. Taking too many AP classes can mean less time to study and prep for important college admissions exams and will add to stress or lead to burnout.
Speaking to a school counselor who has seen the college admissions process inside and out specifically for your school can help you get a good idea of how you can balance priorities. Taking many AP classes can look good, but not if it means you score lower on the SAT or ACT than you would have without that extra AP credit.
How Many AP Classes Should I Take to Get Into My Dream School
The number of AP classes you should take to improve your chances of getting into your dream college or university depends on the selectivity of your school of choice, as well as your school demographics.
The chart below demonstrates a general ballpark of the number of APs you should take to maximize your chances of getting into your desired college.
|Selectivity of School
|Number of APs Recommended *
|Less Selective/ State Schools
|More Selective/ State Schools Honors/ Scholarship Programs
State schools and less selective schools generally want to see you challenging yourself in your high school curriculum, but may not emphasize APs as a point of academic rigor. For them, it’s more important that you do well in what classes you are taking, and take what APs you can.
More selective schools, honors programs, and certain scholarship opportunities may want you to take more APs to see that you are capable of taking difficult courses and performing well in them. It’s important to them that you are applying yourself in your classes.
For highly selective schools, the number of APs that you would ideally want to take increases even further. These colleges really want to see you maxing out your available high school class offerings, and taking the toughest classes in each of your subjects.
*Again, it’s important to remember that the list above is only a recommendation for how many APs you should take. Availability of AP courses in your area plays a huge role in the number of classes you can take, and colleges would really rather see you challenging yourself with the most difficult courses available to you than strive for any specific “magic” number of AP classes on your transcript.
Furthermore, it’s better to do really well in fewer APs, than take many AP classes but then ultimately end up failing the exams.
How to Prepare For the Exams
All AP classes offer an AP exam at the end of the year (usually in May), and it’s these AP exam scores that will often determine whether or not you receive college credit.
As with any major exam or final, it’s important to adequately prepare and review so that you can perform to the best of your ability.
First, figure out what you need to learn and review. WIth any subject, there will be topics that you are super comfortable with, and topics that have you absolutely confused. Spend more time on the topics that challenge you and place less emphasis on topics that you already know really well.
Create a schedule for studying early on. Write down how many units you plan on reviewing each week, and stick to the plan religiously. When you are taking multiple AP classes at a time, creating a schedule becomes even more important so that you are adequately preparing for all of your exams.
Take practice tests. Before the AP, go through multiple full length practice tests so you become familiar with the pacing of the exam. Practice tests are also a great way to do active review of material, and allow you to get comfortable with the types of questions that you will see on each exam.
In the weeks before the AP, be sure to get enough rest and stay healthy! It’s easy to want to pull all-nighters to cram for the test, but it’s only going to hurt you in the long run. Finalize your review and go into the exam confident in your knowledge!
How Many APs Should I Take Each Year?
The number of APs that you should take each year varies, but it generally increases as you get older. More APs will be available for juniors and seniors to take than there will be for freshmen. Sometimes, schools may even prohibit freshmen from taking any AP classes at all.
As an underclassman, start with AP classes that have fewer prerequisites and work your way up to taking more APs as an upperclassman.
Freshmen usually take 0-2 APs in areas such as Human Geography, Environmental Science, or Computer Science Principles.
Sophomores usually take 1-3 APs in areas such as Psychology, World History, European History, Art History, or Economics.
Juniors usually take 2-4 APs, in areas such as US History, Biology, Chemistry, and English Language
Seniors usually take 3-5 APs in areas such as Physics, Calculus, English Literature, Foreign Language, Statistics, and US Government
The number of APs you take per year is dependent on your schedule, your school policies and your areas of interest. It’s more important for your schedule to gradually increase in rigor as you go through high school, and for you to demonstrate academic success in whatever classes you do end up taking.
Mistakes to Avoid
The biggest mistake that people make when signing up for AP classes is overloading their schedule.
If you see your grades slipping in classes that you otherwise would do well in, or find yourself having no time to breathe as you go from class to sports to other activities to homework, you may have too much on your plate.
The number of AP classes you take is not as important as you doing well in the classes that you do take and succeeding in your extracurricular activities. While one AP class may not make or break your college chances, a low GPA can definitely hinder your opportunities for success.
College admissions are not solely based on your AP score. Don’t overwhelm yourself, and take time to do things that you enjoy, participate in extracurriculars, and keep your grades up.
Prepare For Your APs With SoFlo
If you’re stressed about your upcoming AP exams, or are looking for some help while going through the course, SoFlo is a great resource to get you started. SoFlo offers one-on-one tutoring for every AP exam, and there is guaranteed to be a tutor with the expertise to help you excel.
SoFlo students make their own schedules and are offered flexible tutoring plans while also seeing noticeable improvements in their scores. Schedule a free consultation now!
About the Author
Originally from Princeton, New Jersey, Shirley Xie attends Johns Hopkins University and is majoring in Public Health and Behavioral Biology. She scored a 1580 on the SAT. In her free time, she enjoys playing volleyball and baking with friends.