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Exactly How Many AP Classes Should I Take? | AP Experts

Dec 14, 2022
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If you are a high-achieving student and want to get into one of the top colleges, or if you are a student who wants to obtain credit in high school and save on tuition, taking AP Classes can be a great option. But apart from ‘What AP classes should I take, there is the question, ‘How many AP classes should I take?’ A lot of AP classes can help make your transcript impressive and save you a lot of money, but will you be able to manage the pressure? Overdoing it could cause more harm than good, hurting your GPA and leaving you with no time for other activities like ACT/SAT studying and extracurriculars. So what is the number of classes you should aim for? This blog will discuss different factors that will help you decide on the right number of AP classes for you.

Why should I take AP classes?

Before getting into the debate of how many AP classes you should take, let us talk about why you should take AP classes in the first place. This will help you reflect on your choices and make the best decision for achieving your long-term goals.

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Taking an AP class and passing its exam indicates that you are capable of taking an intro-level college course. Many colleges award credit to students with high AP scores. These classes also help you explore different fields of study, such as psychology, economics, and computer science, to help you decide which field you might want to take in college. Additionally, by taking these classes, you can challenge yourself and prove to the colleges that you are capable of taking on the most challenging courses available to you. 

However, it would be best if you remembered that the idea here is not to collect them all but to go for the ones you can excel in. 

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How many AP classes should you take to impress colleges?

When deciding on how many AP classes you should take, one of the most important factors to consider is the competitiveness of the college you are interested in. For less selective colleges, the number of AP classes you attend depends on your goals. For instance, you must decide which categories you want to finish in high school to target harder classes in college. Such colleges generally accept AP classes for credit but don’t need them for admission. However, you can only get credit if you pass the test, so make sure not to overburden yourself with AP classes. Getting two 4s is better than getting four 2s. 

For more selective colleges and scholarships, you need to prove that you are taking the hardest courses available to you, including AP classes, if they are available at your school. For getting into this type of college, there is no “magic number” for the number of AP classes you should take. This is because the availability of courses changes a lot from one high school to another. For instance, on their admission website, Harvard says they are looking for students who know how to make the most out of their opportunities and the available resources. The students also need to demonstrate their proficiency by taking tests such as International Baccalaureate tests, SAT Subject Tests, and Advanced Placement tests.

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On the other hand, the admission website of the University of Pennsylvania says that they expect every student applying to the university to challenge themselves in high school, depending on the available opportunities. They acknowledge that every high school is different and, therefore, suggest you review your school’s profile to learn about the courses available to you, the grading scale applicable at your school, and the ways to challenge yourself in extracurricular activities. 

Stanford says that they expect their applicants to challenge themselves throughout high school while doing well on the tests. For them, a high school transcript is the most important credential to assess your academic record. They have specifically pointed out that you need to take no fixed number of AP courses to prove yourself, but that your high school transcript will be your most valuable resource. 

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So what does this discussion tell us about how many AP classes should you take? Suppose you are aiming for the most competitive colleges. In that case, your best bet is to take the most challenging core courses available at your school, including AP US History, World History or European History, AP Calculus or Statistics, and at least one of the sciences (Physics, Chemistry, Biology). It would help if you also took AP classes in non-core subjects that interest you, such as Economics, Psychology, and Computer science. 

You won’t be able to impress colleges just with a huge list of AP courses, especially if the workload affects your overall GPA or if you perform poorly on their exams. The goal is not to spread yourself thin but to challenge and boost your high school curriculum. Note that for some colleges, you must also be good at extracurricular activities. 

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 What is the right number of AP classes to take?

When choosing the number of AP classes to take, make sure you challenge yourself but don’t overburden yourself. You must also look at the requirements of your target colleges and the AP courses available at your school. You can aim for the following number of AP classes depending on your targeted colleges: 

For most selective colleges: AP classes in most or all core subjects such as Mathematics, English, History, Science, and Foreign Language, in addition to AP courses that are relevant to your goals and interests, including Psychology, Economics, or computers. These will amount to around 7-12 AP courses. 

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For moderately selective colleges: Take AP classes for most core subjects and a few additional courses. These will amount to around 4-8 AP courses. 

For less selective colleges: You can take AP classes in some core subjects in addition to courses relevant to your interests and goals. These will amount to around 1-5 AP courses. 

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How do you distribute these courses across a four-year high school program? 

Below is a schedule that we have suggested for a reasonably ambitious student: 

First Year: Wondering what AP classes I should take in my first year. Consider taking a few less demanding AP classes and strengthening your middle school skills, including Human Geography, Environmental Science, or Psychology. In addition, take honors classes in your core courses if possible. This will help you develop prerequisite skills for more challenging AP courses.

Sophomore Year: Consider taking 1-3 AP classes. What AP classes should I take? Add a slightly more demanding AP class, such as US History or World History, and mix it up with less demanding courses. In your other code classes, continue taking honors courses if possible.

Junior Year: Depending on your scores and experience from the previous years, start taking APs in core subjects such as AP Mathematics, AP English, and AP Calculus. Take as many courses as possible without overburdening your schedule. In addition, ensure you devote enough time to studying for the SAT or ACT this year. For example, if you are hoping for an Ivy League, you will need to take 3-5 AP classes. On the other hand, taking 2-4 APs would be enough if you are aiming for less-competitive schools.

Senior Year: In this year, consider taking more AP classes in core and additional subjects while taking care not to overburden yourself. Applicants aiming for highly selective colleges usually take 5-6 AP classes this year, but keep your limits and schedule in mind. At this point, adding one more AP class might not have a huge impact on your college chances, but it could reduce the time spent on applications to a great extent. So, take your decisions wisely. 

We have summarized the above information in a chart, as given below. 

YearRecommend number of AP classesSuggestions for AP classes
9th Grade0-2Environmental Science, Human Geography
10th Grade1-3Psychology, European History, World History
11th Grade2-4US History, English Language, Chemistry, Biology
12th Grade3-4AB or BC Calculus, English Literature, Statistics, Physics, Computer Science, Foreign Language, US Government, and Politics

Conclusion 

We hope you got your answer to the question, ‘how many AP classes should I take for UCLA and other careers?’ To conclude, remember that there is no set formula for admission to the top schools, and these are just suggestions, not hard and fast rules. The key is to take the toughest course load you can handle while keeping your GPA and other academic results up. 

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Do colleges favor applicants with more AP classes?

A. Colleges do not automatically favor the students who have taken the highest number of AP classes, especially if you don’t do well in their exams or if the workload drags down your GPA score. Therefore, even though APs can greatly boost your college application, if you take too many of them, they could end up doing more harm than good.

2. What are the most and least challenging AP courses?

A. US History, Physics, and Chemistry are some of the most challenging AP courses, while Psychology, Economics, and Computers are some of the least difficult courses.

3. Which AP course is the toughest?

AP Physics is probably the toughest AP course as it has the lowest passing rate of around 50%, meaning that almost half of the students who sit for this exam fail.

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