Advanced Placement courses, or AP courses, are rigorous college-level courses where you can both prove your academic ability and potentially earn college credit. It’s true, taking AP classes in high school can demonstrate your readiness for college in ways that regular, or even honors-level classes cannot, but choosing how many to take and which ones can be nuanced. Below we begin to tackle some of these concerns, and a couple other questions we often get asked.
How Many AP Courses Should I Take? Which APs Should I Take?
Like most things in life, it depends. Generally, because colleges are looking for students who love to learn and that are willing to challenge themselves, you should consider moving up to an AP course whenever you are eligible to do so. The key is to think about your curriculum as a whole and strategically balance your desire and capacity.
While you should aim to keep your grades up, do not make a course selection out of fear of earning a B when you are accustomed to getting As. In most circumstances it is better to get a B in an AP course than to remain at a less-challenging level. View it as an opportunity to grow, to develop stronger study skills, and to master the ability to ask for help when you need it.
At the same time however, you should consider whether AP courses are going to take away from your ability to spend adequate time to be successful in your other courses. Additionally, you will want to consider the opportunity cost to your extra-curricular activities. Colleges will not be impressed by a student who took one more AP course than their peers, but did not have enough time to explore and develop their interests outside the classroom in a meaningful way.
The College Board offers AP courses for 38 different subjects. Here are some ways to figure out which ones you should take:
- Consider which subjects you enjoyed and performed well in last year. Since you are likely confident in these areas, they're an excellent place to start.
- Choose APs that align with your intended major or career. For example, if you're thinking of being pre-med, you may want to fit in both AP Biology and AP Chemistry.
- Select your electives wisely. If you are interested in business, you could consider AP Statistics and AP Economics courses!
- Don’t neglect core subjects. Whether you are interested in medicine or business, AP Spanish can be as important as any elective.
What To Do If Your School Doesn’t Offer APs
Let’s look at why AP courses matter in the admissions process, as well as find ways you can accomplish the same objective through other means.
Your performance in AP courses shows colleges three things:
- How you’ll adapt to college-level coursework
- How willing you are to challenge yourself
- How you respond to challenges
Colleges want students who'll take advantage of opportunities to do things like rigorous research or study abroad, and they're looking for students who can handle the inevitable obstacles that arise during college. Although AP courses are a great indicator of the above qualities, there are other ways to demonstrate them.
For some, your school may offer other academically advanced programs such as the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma, or dual enrollment through a local college. Admissions officers will evaluate your transcript in the context of your school's course catalog, so you should focus on proving your college readiness through the opportunities available to you.
No matter what program is offered or not, you’ll have teachers that you can talk with outside of class time. If you are interested in a particular subject matter, start by asking your teachers if they can recommend any additional books. If you follow through, many teachers will jump at the chance to mentor a highly motivated student. In the end, they may even write you a letter of recommendation that says more about your intellectual curiosity than merely completing a course ever could.
When it comes to demonstrating your willingness to challenge yourself, don’t limit yourself to academic performance. Whether you choose to compete in sports, pursue artistic endeavors, or develop a community project with a non-profit you care about, show colleges that you’re willing to go the extra mile for things that matter the most to you. In addition to your course selections, the stories you tell about challenges faced and lessons learned can make a big impact on your admission chances.
Course planning can be daunting — even if you already know what you want to study in college. However, with proper guidance, the process of applying and course planning can become seamless and exciting. Princeton College Consulting has vast experience with successful course planning. Over 93% of our students have been accepted into one of their top-choice colleges. If you are looking to join them, contact us today.