How Many AP Classes Should You Take? Advice from a Princeton Student
Ahhh, the question I have asked countless times, heard my classmates arguing over, and prayed to find the perfect answer to that daunting question on Google. The reality is that there is no standard nor straightforward answer to this question because it varies across individuals, schedules, academic goals and interests.
First, it is important to refine and understand your academic goals. This distinction is important because it will help you determine if you are going to refine your focus in classes in a specific area or if you are going to have a broader approach. If you are more interested in the social sciences, then focus your attention on AP Literature, English, Language, and History classes. Alternatively, if you want to pursue the sciences, then prioritize the AP science classes offered at your school. If you are not sure exactly what you want to focus on or major in, then you can pick and choose the AP classes across various fields that you know will keep you engaged during class.
Because I wanted a liberal arts education experience, I knew that it would be important to be well-rounded in a variety of subject matters because I would not be applying to any specific major programs. I graduated taking 12 AP classes: AP Physics A & B, Calculus AB, Art History, 2D Art, American, European & World histories, English Literature & Composition, Computer Science, and Spanish. While it seems like a lot of AP classes, it is important to understand that my high school gave me the opportunity to have access to so many different classes, and we were on a quarter schedule where I was only taking 3-4 AP classes per semester rather than balancing 5-6 APs like other high schools.
Not everyone has equal access to educational opportunities, and colleges know and consider that! When you apply, your counselor also submits, along with their recommendation letter, a school report that lists all of the AP classes offered in your school. So, if your school only offered 2 AP classes and you have taken both of them, colleges will understand and contextualize that given your opportunities, you have maximized what was available.
This leads into an important point that you will not be penalized by colleges if you only take a couple AP classes because your high school only offers a small selection of AP classes. On my journey, I never took AP Chemistry, AP Biology or AP Statistics classes because I knew that those subject matters were not something I enjoyed nor felt a passion for. Despite my peers taking more AP classes than me, I did not want to conform to taking as many AP classes as possible because it is important to enjoy what you are learning.
Taking too many AP classes also runs the risk of having a lack of balance by not leaving any room for your personal development outside of your lengthy homework assignments, studying for difficult tests and AP exams. It is essential that a sense of balance is created in your life as taking a lot of AP classes will not get you into your dream school. You need to have the chance to develop leadership, teamwork, and creative skill sets through your extracurriculars. If you study all day long in order to keep up with all of those AP class demands, then how will you be able to experience life and have moments that would give you meaning and fulfillment? What will you write those introspective college essays about? Never lose sight of the importance to have a balanced schedule during your high school career.
Often you will hear phrases like “If you want to get into an Ivy League school, you must take all of the AP classes!” or “UCLA is very competitive, so if you do not take as many AP classes as your classmates, then you will not be accepted!” These phrases are not true. The reality is that you must challenge yourself when you are picking the classes you are taking, but that does not mean that you need to put balance on the back-burner. No college admissions officer will penalize you for taking 5 vs 7 AP classes because your application comes down to an accumulation of so many different factors that make you up as an individual.
Focus on choosing how AP classes will fit together to shape your extracurricular and prospective professional pursuits. You don’t need to approach your course selection as competition for having the most AP classes under your belt. Trust me, I thought that it was the case, but colleges do not look at it through that lens. Rather, they seek to see what you are passionate about and whether you are challenging yourself where you have time and energy to pursue meaningful extracurriculars.
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