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    How Many AP Classes Should You Take in High School?

    By Sawyer Hiton

    Sawyer Hiton is a former scholarship and financial aid writer with Scholarships360. Previously, Sawyer worked with the nonprofit College Possible, supporting high school juniors in beginning their college plans and applications. Sawyer graduated from Kenyon College with a degree in Philosophy.

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    and Cece Gilmore

    Cece Gilmore is a Content Writer at Scholarships360. Cece earned her undergraduate degree in Journalism and Mass Communications from Arizona State University. While at ASU, she was the education editor as well as a published staff reporter at Downtown Devil. Cece was also the co-host of her own radio show on Blaze Radio ASU.

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    Reviewed by Bill Jack

    Bill Jack has over a decade of experience in college admissions and financial aid. Since 2008, he has worked at Colby College, Wesleyan University, University of Maine at Farmington, and Bates College.

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    Edited by Maria Geiger

    Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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    Updated: April 2nd, 2024
    How Many AP Classes Should You Take in High School?

    Whether you want to save money, challenge yourself, or beef up your college applications, taking AP classes is a great option for your high school course load. But exactly how many AP classes should you take? Too few and you may be sacrificing a great opportunity. Too many and you may be overwhelmed and unable to focus on the rest of your life. In this article, we’ll explore the Advanced Placement program, and the factors you should consider in determining your sweet spot.

    Also see: How to get an AP Fee Reduction

    What is the AP program?

    AP classes are college-level classes offered at many high schools across the country. There are more than 30 AP classes offered, in a wide range of subjects. Once you complete an AP class, you take the corresponding AP test. How you do on that test determines whether or not you receive college credit in the subject area. AP scores can also allow you to skip prerequisite courses at your college. If you do well on your AP Biology exam for instance, you may be able to bypass intro bio and move on to the harder stuff. 

    Even if you choose not to take the AP test, an AP class still provides a great opportunity for a more rigorous academic setting. You’ll engage with more difficult concepts, and read and write more. Conversely, you can also take an AP test without having taken the class. If you’ve been studying piano since you were a kid, you might consider taking the AP music theory test even if you have taken the official class. This is an excellent way to receive college credit for knowledge you already possess.

    For more information on the AP program, check out the College Board website.

    Why should you take AP classes? 

    There are many reasons why AP classes (and tests) are beneficial. For one, they can save you a great deal of money. If you can earn some of your college credits before even entering college, you may save time and thus money once you get to college. With the help of AP, you may even be able to graduate college early. AP classes can also help you prepare for college-level academics. Through AP classes, you can explore a college atmosphere at your high school. You’ll read more challenging material and engage in deeper discussions. Not only will this ready you for college rigor, but it may help you stay more engaged and interested in high school.

    Lastly, AP classes look great on your college applications. When a college sees you’ve taken AP classes, they’ll know you’re a driven learner.  Additionally, the College Board offers AP Scholar Awards to students who perform well on AP exams which can make schools more interested in you. Schools want students who will go above and beyond to challenge themselves, and this is just what you’re doing when you take AP classes. Still, this doesn’t mean you should overload your schedule with AP classes. Colleges don’t automatically accept students who took the most AP classes.

    Related: How does AP credit work?

    So how many AP classes should you take?

    The quick answer is: It depends.

    Less selective colleges 

    The number of AP classes depends largely on what kind of school you want to get into. If you’re aiming for a less selective school, it’s up to you how many AP classes you take. Think practically about which credits you might want to get out of the way during high school. Instead of signing up for more AP classes than you can handle, focus on excelling in a few.

    Related: IB vs AP: what you need to know

    More selective colleges

    More selective schools, on the other hand, want to see their applicants taking the most challenging courses available to them. While there is still no “magic number” of AP classes to take, you should be prepared to take a lot. See if your dream school has a note on their website about their selection process. Or contact a current student at the school and ask them about their high school course load. 

    Stanford University writes, “Please know that our evaluation of your application goes beyond any numerical formula. There is no minimum GPA or test score; nor is there any specific number of AP or honors courses you must have on your transcript in order to be admitted to Stanford.” 

    While Stanford, like other selective schools, doesn’t require a certain amount of AP classes, they do pay close attention to transcripts and the academic choices applicants make. This means, if you are aiming for a highly selective school, you should be taking the hardest classes available at your high school. Take a range of your high school’s AP classes, including math, English, history, and science. And sign up for any non-core AP subjects, like psychology or art history, especially if they are fields you are interested in pursuing.

    Advice from an admissions professional

    We are looking for students that are challenging themselves; for some, that is one AP class, and for others, that is many. We are also keenly aware that not all schools offer multiple AP or upper level class options. We encourage students to take and do what they can where they are.

    Christina Labella | Director of Undergraduate Admissions, Manhattanville University

    How many AP classes should you take each year? 

    Freshman year

    Some high schools don’t allow 9th graders to take AP classes, which the College Board fully supports.  But if you’re able to, and feeling up to it, take one of the easier ones. AP Psychology and AP Environmental Science are usually regarded as having lighter loads. Make sure to take honors-level core classes to bolster your skills and transcript.

    Also read: Easiest AP classes you can take

    Sophomore year

    Take one to three AP classes. Try pairing one hard AP with one to two easier ones. Talk to upperclassmen or counselors at your school to gauge the difficulties of the various APs. Continue pursuing honors classes. This could be a good year to push yourself, considering that your next year will only get harder.

    Related: Which AP classes are the hardest?

    Junior year

    This is when you should start taking your AP core classes. Take three to five if you are aiming for a highly selective school, and two to four if you are aiming elsewhere. Note that many students describe this year as significantly harder than past ones. And you’ll also likely be taking your standardized tests. Therefore, use your time wisely and don’t spread yourself too thin.

    Also see: What happens if you fail an AP exam? 

    Senior year

    Continue to take AP core classes and other AP subjects of interest. Leave space for your college applications, as they can sometimes feel like another AP class in themselves. That being said, your college applications will likely be done by the second semester, so you will gain more free time. Students aiming for highly selective schools may take up to six AP classes this year. But again, don’t overburden yourself. Based on your AP experience in past years, you know you best at this point.

    See also: How many AP classes should you take in high school? 

    Final words on AP planning

    In the whirlwind of college preparation, many students forget to follow their gut and interests. While it is beneficial to push your comfort zone, try formulating a course load that you are genuinely excited about. If this means taking AP music theory instead of AP chemistry, go for it. You will do better if you are legitimately engaged. 

    If your grades are slipping, or you’re losing ability to concentrate in sports, you may be in too many APs. Taking an extra AP course won’t be the reason you get into your dream school, but dropping out of cross country might be the reason you don’t.

    Always consult your counselor, as they’ve done this before. As mentioned earlier, it is also helpful to communicate with upperclassmen at your high school and students at your dream college. Get an idea of how those before you have mapped out their AP life. 

    Most importantly, trust yourself! Don’t get too caught up in the AP frenzy—stick to your strengths as a student. At the same time, take some leaps. Now is the time to prepare for college academics, earn credits, and pick up some new strengths while you’re at it. 

    Also read: What is dual enrollment?

    More resources for students

    After working out your AP schedule, you can start preparing for college in other ways! Scholarships360 offers a wealth of resources for every step of the college admissions process. This includes tips on writing college essays, finding the right school, deciding on a major, and custom-matching you with scholarships. Good luck with the process, and make sure to check back on our site to help you with any other questions!

    Also see: What classes should I take senior year?

    Key Takeaways

    Key Takeaways

    • AP classes are college-leveled classes offered to high school students in a wide range of subjects
    • Students can receive college credit for doing well on AP exams which allows students to save money and graduate early
    • How many AP classes you should take depends on various factors, such as your personal interests and capabilities, as well as what type of colleges you are interested in 
    • Do not overwork yourself when it comes to AP classes! Taking an extra AP course won’t be the reason you get into your dream school, but dropping out or performing poorly on an AP course might be the reason you don’t 

    Frequently asked questions about how many AP classes you should take in high school

    Will colleges expect me to take a certain number of AP classes?

    Not necessarily. The number of AP classes expected by colleges varies depending on the institution and its admissions requirements. Many colleges understand that not all high schools offer a wide range of AP classes. Therefore, it’s more important to focus on doing well in the courses you do take.

    What if my high school doesn’t offer AP courses?

    If your high school doesn’t offer AP courses, you still have the option of taking AP exams – you’ll just have to self-study instead of using the class to prep. Othersie, consider taking the highest level of courses offered in subjects that interest you.

    How should I choose which AP classes to take?

    When choosing AP classes, consider your interests and future academic or career goals. Research the AP course offerings at your high school and explore the course descriptions to understand the content. It’s also important to balance your course load and ensure you have a well-rounded high school experience by including non-AP classes and extracurricular activities.

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