Which AP Classes Should You Take? | BestColleges (2024)

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  • AP classes can help you enhance your college applications and earn college credit.
  • Consider factors like your strengths, interests, and workload when choosing AP courses.
  • The more competitive your target colleges, the more AP classes you should consider taking.
  • High schoolers may need to wait until their sophom*ore year to start taking AP classes.

In 2009, about 1.7 million students took Advanced Placement (AP) courses in high school, according to the College Board. Ten years later, that number jumped to about 2.8 million.

An increasing number of students enroll in AP classes to help boost their college admission chances and to earn college credit while still in high school. These courses may prove challenging. But for many students, the challenge of AP classes is worth it.

Still, planning your high school schedule to take AP classes can seem confusing. How many AP classes are there? And how many AP classes should you take?

How to Choose AP Classes: 5 Factors to Consider

When selecting AP classes, think strategically. Here are five things to consider when trying to decide which AP courses best suit your needs.

1. Your Subject Strengths and Weaknesses

First, take an honest look at your academic strengths and weaknesses. For example, if you excel in math, then you should consider AP courses in calculus, computer science, and statistics. But if you know math isn't your strong suit, then you may not want to place that additional pressure on yourself.

If you like science, you might enroll in AP Chemistry or AP Physics. A student who shines in the arts and humanities might prefer AP courses in art history, foreign languages, music theory, or English literature.

2. Your Overall Workload

High school students sometimes put unrealistic expectations on themselves, especially when aiming for a top college or university. This can lead to pressure and burnout instead of success.

Take a look at your overall workload. Consider your extracurriculars, volunteer work, other student activities, and any family or personal commitments. If you're already busy, enrolling in too many AP classes could derail your goals.

Some AP classes are more demanding than others. For example, two of the hardest AP exams to pass in May 2020 were AP Physics 1 (51.6% pass rate) and AP Environmental Science (53.4% pass rate).

3. Your School's and Teachers' Reputations

Each teacher and school has their own strengths and weaknesses. Some teachers possess a knack for teaching a certain subject. Some schools have a better reputation for specific AP classes.

If you can, choose a teacher with a good reputation, since they're more likely to help you succeed in your AP class. Ask your school if you can see pass rates for certain AP classes and exams. Those pass rates can help you evaluate a teacher's capabilities.

4. Your Prospective Colleges' AP Credit Policies

Each college sets its own policies for granting college credit for AP classes. Some put a cap on the number of credits students can earn for AP courses, whereas others only accept credit for certain classes or only offer credit if students earn a 4 or 5.

If you know where you'd like to apply for college, research the policies at your prospective schools. That way, you can get the most out of your college transfer credits.

5. Your Interests and Prospective Area of Study

Although you should weigh the practical considerations above, you also should keep your own interests in mind. Maybe you love Latin or European history. In that case, think about enrolling in those courses.

Your future college studies can help you decide on which AP classes to take as well. Of course, it's fine if you're still deciding on your college major. But if you have a general idea of what you'd like to study, then you can align your AP classes with that subject.

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How Many AP Classes Should I Take?

How many AP courses you should take depends on your goals. For instance, consider the competitiveness of your prospective colleges. The more selective the school, the more AP classes you may want to take. Additionally, many scholarships take note of students who push themselves academically by taking AP classes.

For Highly Competitive Colleges and Universities

If you want to apply to some of the most competitive schools in the country, you can show the admissions departments you're capable of taking challenging courses. When applying to some of the top schools, students sometimes take seven, eight, or even up to 12 AP courses during their time in high school. Selective state schools might also prefer applicants with 4-6 AP classes.

You can further enhance your transcript by earning an AP Scholar Award. These awards recognize students who "have demonstrated exemplary college-level achievement on AP exams." Students who receive high marks on multiple exams may qualify for an AP Scholar Award.

For Less Competitive Colleges

Less competitive schools may be excited to see AP classes on an applicant's transcripts, but they may not be required or expected. Of course, these courses can still boost your chances of admission, especially if you pass 2-4 exams or more.

Plus, you can reap the rewards of AP classes in other ways, such as by improving your studying skills. AP classes can help you earn college credit, or you might qualify for scholarships to help cover some college costs.

For Scholarships

Even if you decide not to apply to the country's most selective schools, you can still benefit from taking multiple AP classes. Many scholarship committees offer financial rewards based on merit. They like to see high school students challenge themselves academically.

A College Board study found that 31% of colleges considered students' AP accomplishments when making scholarship decisions. Therefore, passing several AP classes may help keep your college costs down in the long run.

When Should I Take AP Classes?

Students often use their first year of high school to build a foundation and adjust to the more advanced curriculum. Many first-year students avoid jumping into AP classes as they get used to high school. In fact, some schools don't even offer AP classes to ninth graders.

Instead, students typically start by taking 1-3 AP classes during their sophom*ore year, beginning with some of the less demanding courses. They may then pick up the pace during their junior year, enrolling in more challenging options. These courses can enhance your transcript and boost your GPA.

You'll apply for colleges during your senior year, so your junior year is the time to make an especially good impression. That said, don't slack off your senior year. Although these AP courses may not play as big a role in college admission decisions, AP test scores can still affect how much college credit you get.

Try to balance your AP classes with honors classes, extracurriculars, SAT/ACT prep, volunteer work, and any personal commitments without overloading yourself.

GradeRecommended Number of AP Classes to TakeRecommended AP Classes
9th Grade0
10th Grade1-3European History, World History, Human Geography, Psychology
11th Grade3-5English, Calculus AB, Biology, Spanish (or other foreign language), U.S. Government and Politics
12th Grade3-6Chemistry, Physics C, Calculus BC

Frequently Asked Questions About Choosing AP Classes

Do you have to take the exam if you take an AP class?

You can usually take an AP class without taking an exam and vice versa. However, you need to take an exam if you hope to gain college credit. And a high exam score can help with college admissions. It's also best to take the class before taking the exam so you're properly prepared.

What year should you take AP classes?

While some high school students may be able to take AP classes during their first year, most wait until their second year. Students typically enroll in the bulk of their AP classes during their junior and senior years.

How many AP classes should you take for Harvard?

While Harvard does not set a hard-and-fast rule for AP coursework, the average incoming Harvard student has taken eight AP classes. Keep in mind that Harvard's admissions department weighs several factors, so don't count on AP classes alone if you want to get into Harvard.

Is there a limit to how many AP classes you can take?

Although the College Board does not set a limit on how many AP classes you can take, you will probably face some limiting factors. For example, your school may not offer all available AP classes. You might struggle with certain subjects. And you could find yourself overwhelmed if you enroll in too many classes.

Feature Image: Jose Luis Pelaez Inc / DigitalVision / Getty Images

Which AP Classes Should You Take? | BestColleges (2024)


What is the most useful AP class? ›

A Look at the Most Popular AP Courses
  • AP World History. AP World History is a course taken up by many students. ...
  • AP English Literature. Studying AP English Literature isn't just about reading great books. ...
  • AP Psychology. ...
  • AP Calculus AB. ...
  • AP Spanish Language and Culture.
Sep 11, 2023

Is taking 7 AP classes enough? ›

6–7 AP classes is plenty. Many people get admitted to UC with fewer than that. Instead of adding another AP course, look to make sure you have extracurriculars showing leadership and at least a couple teachers who know you well who can write you strong recommendations.

Is 10 AP classes enough for Ivy League? ›

How Many AP Classes Should You Take for Ivy Leagues and Other Top US Universities? For students aiming for the Ivy League and Top 20 schools in the United States, a good target is to take (and pass) 10-14 AP classes throughout your high school career — or 3-4 each year.

Is taking 3 AP classes too much? ›

Junior year is the most important year academically. It's the year colleges will look at most closely on your transcripts. Therefore, you should strive to take as many AP classes as you can reasonably manage. For example, if you took 2 AP classes your sophom*ore year, maybe aim for 3 AP classes.

Is 4 aps too much junior year? ›

Junior Year

Depending on what kind of school you want to go to, you should be taking between 3 and 5 AP® classes this year. You will need to manage your time well, however, as you also need to study for the SAT® or ACT® during this time.

Which AP is easiest? ›

Easiest AP exams by pass rate
AP SubjectPass Rate (Exam Score of 3+)Median Score
Ap Physics C Mechanics73.4%3.41
AP Psychology58.3%2.71
AP Research82.7%3.3
AP Seminar82.6%3.19
34 more rows
Jan 13, 2023

Is 5 APs too much junior year? ›

An Ivy League hopeful might take 3 to 5 AP classes, while if you're aiming for less-selective schools, 2 to 4 would be enough. Senior Year: Take more APs in core subjects and additional subjects, again being careful not to overburden your schedule and to leave time for college applications.

Is 3 AP classes too much sophom*ore year? ›

I recommend taking only 2 APs sophom*ore year, 4-5 Junior year, and 3 to 4 Senior year. That puts you in the 9-11 range which more than enough. Also keep in mind that if you apply to Brown with 12 APs, you've wasted your time since they give you ZERO AP credit.

Is 12 AP classes impressive? ›

Students looking to earn admission to highly selective colleges should take multiple AP classes to bolster their applications and demonstrate they can handle challenging coursework. Some college admissions experts recommend taking as many as 7-12 AP courses before applying to the most elite universities.

What AP classes impress colleges? ›

The best AP classes to take for college are those that relate to your area of study in some way. Some of the most common major- or career-related AP classes include: AP Computer Science Principles and AP Computer Science. AP Environmental Science and AP Human Geography.

How many APs does mit want? ›

There is no minimum or recommended number of AP courses.

How many AP classes is impressive? ›

To be competitive at some of the most highly selective colleges in the country, 8-12 AP courses may be the sweet spot amount, assuming the student can handle that level of rigor. There are no colleges out there that require you to take 14, 17, or some other obscene number of Advanced Placement offerings.

Is 6 AP classes too much senior year? ›

Taking 6 APs might be perfect because you already have taken 6 APs before and got all As and 4s and 5s on your AP tests. Or it might be getting over your skis as the expression goes. I think it depends on what your track record is thus far.

Should I take 3 APs junior year? ›

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.

How many AP classes is too many junior year? ›

A typical recommendation for high-achieving students might be 3 to 5 AP classes during their junior year. It's important to strike a balance between challenging yourself academically and maintaining your overall well-being, so don't feel like you have to take every AP class offered by your school.

Which AP classes look best for college? ›

The best AP classes to take for college are those that relate to your area of study in some way. Some of the most common major- or career-related AP classes include: AP Computer Science Principles and AP Computer Science. AP Environmental Science and AP Human Geography.

What aps look best for college? ›

I n general you should try to take courses each year in English, science, math, the social sciences, and foreign language. Colleges want to see that you are taking on challenges when available, so if your school offers AP courses in any of these areas, you should consider taking them.

What AP classes impress colleges the most? ›

12th Grade
  • AP English Literature and Composition.
  • AP U.S. Government and Politics.
  • AP Calculus AB or AP Statistics.
  • AP Psychology.
  • AP Research.
  • AP Computer Science Principles or AP Computer Science A.
  • AP World Languages and Cultures courses.
  • AP Art and Design Program.
Dec 5, 2023

Which AP classes give the most credit? ›

Math, science, and foreign language exams tend to give the most credit.

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