How Many AP Classes is Enough?
There’s no doubt that AP classes offer a number of benefits. For one, these college-level classes tend to be of great quality, which can actually make them kind of fun—in the sense that you are surrounded by focused, active learners and purposeful, quality instructors all working toward the common goal of passing a big exam. In addition, AP classes can boost your motivation to learn since passing AP exams will give you the chance to get college credit. This can save you college tuition money, allow you to register for college classes early before they fill up, and help you graduate early. Furthermore, keeping your eye on the worthwhile goal of passing AP exams will boost your academic success in high school and help you feel better prepared for the years to come.
Now that you’re (hopefully) as excited as ever about continuing on your AP adventure, let’s evaluate the common question, how many AP classes should you ideally take?
How Many is Too Many?
Generally, AP courses are more difficult and require more time than regular classes. Consequently, taking more APs than you can realistically handle can bring down your GPA, not to mention cause undue stress. Plus, if you don’t have the time and energy to dedicate to the material, you could end up forfeiting passing grades on AP exams and any college credit that comes with them. Being honest with yourself, decide whether you’re likely to pass your classes with As or Bs as getting a C or below, and/or not passing the AP exam, communicates to colleges that you are either not ready for college success or that you are simply piling on AP classes to impress them.
How Many is Too Few?
Choosing not to take AP courses when they are available to you and when you are capable of doing well in them will likewise detract from an otherwise competitive college application. Colleges look for students who are ambitious with a high likelihood of contributing to society, so avoiding challenging opportunities (i.e. AP courses) can lead colleges to question how strong of a candidate you are for their schools.
The Key Number
By now, hopefully you have a pretty good idea of how to determine the appropriate number of APs to attempt. In a sentence, the ultimate recommendation is, take as many of the most rigorous classes available to you as you can as long as you can do well in them.
If that answer isn’t fully satisfying, here is a look at the average number of APs students tend to take over the course of their high school years, broken down by college selectivity:
Selective schools: around 7–12 APs
Semi-selective schools: 4–8 APs
Less selective schools: 1–5 APs
Lastly, as you assess your abilities and how many APs you’re likely to succeed in, consider these final recommendations:
Think about your extracurricular involvement, including SAT/ACT prep, to ensure you don’t overcommit yourself.
If you find yourself needing to choose between two AP classes, pick the one that will better demonstrate your interests to colleges.
Don’t forget that senior year is a great opportunity to take multiple APs, and colleges do look at your senior year--if not at your GPA, then at least at the rigor of the classes you plan to take.
I wish you all the best in your classes. Put in that work, learn a lot, and enjoy the process!
Kiley A. teaches SAT/ACT Writing and leads College Application Workshops at Elite Prep Rowland Heights. As the Elite Community Scholars Coordinator, he also works to spread this college preparation guidance to low-income, first-generation students who may not otherwise have access to such support. Above all, he wants his students to know the far-reaching power of their own self-assurance.