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How Many AP Classes Should I Take? How To Plan Your Workload

How many AP classes should I take: Young man in front of a computer holding a smartphone

Whether you want to graduate early from college or apply to the Ivy leagues, AP classes offer many benefits for college students.

AP classes are also academically demanding, which looks great on college applications and can make you stand out to admissions officers.

Still, AP courses require a significant time investment, and the number of AP classes you take will depend on your ability to manage a heavy workload. This leaves many high school students asking the question, “How many AP classes should I take?”

Here's how to create a balanced course load that's challenging, but manageable.

Benefits of AP Classes

Advanced placement (AP) classes have a range of benefits that can set you up for future success. Most importantly, AP courses that are taken in high school have the potential to count for college credit — meaning you can skip the equivalent of that class when you get to college. Understanding the benefits of taking AP courses during your junior year and senior year can help you choose which AP classes to take.

Here are some of the most common available AP classes for the 2020-2021 school year:

  • AP Art History
  • AP Music Theory
  • AP English Literature and Composition
  • AP Geography
  • AP World History
  • AP Physics 1
  • AP US History
  • AP Calculus
  • AP Biology
  • AP Environmental Science
  • AP European History
  • AP Foreign Languages, including French, German, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, Latin, and Spanish

Not every school offers all of these courses, but you may also be able to take them online or at a nearby college or school.

Make Your College Admissions Stand Out

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First and foremost, most people take AP classes because they look great on college applications, which is especially important when applying to selective schools.

Top colleges and universities like to see that you've taken AP classes because it shows you've subjected yourself to a certain amount of academic rigor rather than simply taken the easiest classes available to you.

This shows admissions offices that you're willing to work hard and persevere, which are important skills to have when you pursue college classes full-time.

Prepare for a College Workload

Advanced placement classes are also proven to prepare students for the workload they'll face in college.

According to Denise Pope, a Stanford lecturer who teaches in the School of Education, students enrolled in AP courses have higher success rates in college. This could be in part due to the fact that AP students often come from more wealthy, educated backgrounds, but it could also be because AP classes prepare students for the type workload they can expect with a full college schedule.

Master Self-Study

How many AP classes should I take: College students sitting in a classroom

AP classes are often exam-intensive, meaning they have many tests and quizzes throughout the term. There's also likely to be more homework than what you'd have in your existing classes. This additional workload requires that you master self-study, since you'll be responsible for test prep on your own.

Self-study is crucial to prepare for the AP exams. Your AP test scores will determine whether you're eligible to seek college credit for the course (your college still has to approve it).

How Many AP Classes Should I Take?

Once you understand the benefits of AP classes, you can decide which courses to take and how many is best for you.

The number of AP classes you take depends on your interests, goals, and self-study skills. It's important to talk with your school counselor, who can help you assess your strengths, weaknesses, and goals — all of which play a role in choosing what AP coursework to pursue in the school year.

The average amount of AP classes taken is three per year. But, if taking three classes interferes with your ability to complete your core classes, it's better to drop down to two classes. Additionally, taking only two classes can mean you're more likely to have higher AP scores, due to less stress and more time to study for tests. Be realistic about how much you can take on. The average amount of AP classes taken is three per year. But, if taking three classes interferes with your ability to complete your core classes, it's better to drop down to two classes. Additionally, taking only two classes can mean you're more likely to have higher AP scores, due to less stress and more time to study for tests. Be realistic about how much you can take on.

Remember: You need to score highly on a test in order to get the AP credit to count towards college courses. Taking a course isn't enough — you also need to do well.

What's Best for College Credits?

Many AP classes in the social sciences can be applied to first-year courses you'll take as a freshman in college.

For example, if you get a 4 or 5 on the AP Literature and Composition exam in high school, you can get credit for an English 101 course in college (or the equivalent).

In contrast, if you don't particularly like English, find it difficult, or are more interested in a math or science-related career like computer science, then AP Calc, AP Chemistry, and AP Physics will be best for college credits in your major.

Think about it this way: If you load up on AP science courses but want to pursue a major in English, there might not be a time or place where your AP science credits can transfer.

If you're not sure what you want to pursue, AP English and AP Math classes are a safe bet, since most college students need to take college courses in these subjects. Then, it'll free up time in your class schedule to take a more advanced English class or a different social sciences class that aligns with your interests.

Which AP Classes To Consider

College graduates at graduation ceremony

One way to narrow down which advanced placement courses you should take is to consider your strengths, interests, and future goals.

It might be more beneficial to take fewer AP courses in subjects that interest you, especially when you know you can get a high score, rather than taking more classes where you'll struggle significantly. In other words, consider quality over quantity.

Taking multiple honors classes in your freshman year and sophomore year of high school can help you think about which courses you feel comfortable pursuing more rigorous study in. Honors courses aren't as rigorous as AP classes, but they'll give you a taste of what to expect.

Consider this advice from Denise Pope:

"If you are truly interested in the subject, there’s a good teacher and you’re surrounded by other motivated students, then you’re probably going to have a good experience from taking a more advanced class.”

"But if you’re pushed into it without good preparation and without a safety net in place at the school to help you if you get in over your head, then it may be more harmful than helpful."

Creating Your AP Course Schedule

AP classes can increase your chances of admittance to more selective colleges, including Ivy League schools.

Still, it's just one factor in the full picture of you as a student. Other elements, such as your SAT scores, extracurricular activities, and grades in other high school courses influence the admission committee's end decision.

The number of AP classes a high school student pursues depends on their academic abilities and goals, so don't be influenced by what your friends are taking.

Choose the classes that are right for you. For more information on how to prepare for college applications, including finding a tutor for help you study for your AP exams and getting accepted to competitive colleges, visit TutorMe.

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