How Many AP Classes Should I Take?

The Applerouth Curriculum Team
June 25, 2024
min read
a globe, a microscope, a jar of pencils with a ruler, a bunsen burner, and a palette of watercolors represent the many AP class options on offer

If you’re thinking "how many AP classes should I take next semester?” – you’re certainly not alone! Advanced Placement classes can be an excellent opportunity for high school students to prove their aptitude and raise their academic ambitions to the next level. Because success on AP exams plays a part in demonstrating your academic prowess, it can influence college admissions in a big way.

We will start by saying this: it’s a good idea to strike a happy balance in terms of the total number of AP classes you take when you’re choosing between the “easiest” AP classes (we’ll debunk that term in a minute!), those with a reputation of having the hardest AP tests, and so on.

Just remember: If your AP course load isn’t manageable in reality, the benefits of taking APs won’t materialize. The key is to play to your strengths.

That said, a rigorous AP schedule can and should be leveraged in your favor. In an educational landscape undergoing significant changes (digital SAT, grade inflation, the end of some test-optional policies… need we say more?), AP exams have begun to act as a beacon for showcasing students' depth of knowledge and commitment to rigorous coursework in 2024.

Before we jump into an analysis of how many APs you should take, don’t forget to download Applerouth’s complete AP Handbook – a comprehensive guide to ready all things AP. It offers essential facts at your fingertips, providing insights, strategies, and invaluable support for students navigating the challenging terrain of AP exams.

AP Exam Handbook

Download our AP Exam Handbook

Your one-stop shop for everything you could want to know about APs: course descriptions, exam dates, score distributions, and more!

AP Test Scores Matter, So The Right Number of APs is the Number You Can Fully Commit To

You may already be thinking that there’s no simple answer to the question of "How many AP classes should I take?" And you’d be right!

While you should take the most rigorous schedule you can confidently handle, only you (along with your parents, counselor, or teachers) can accurately say what that is.

At some of the country’s most prestigious high schools, it’s the norm for students to take 10-12 AP classes over the course of their high school career. At other schools, the average will be much lower.

It’s important to remember that, academically speaking, your college applications will be compared against other students from your school. If your school doesn’t offer dozens of AP classes, you won’t be expected to have taken as many as a student who had access to any AP course they wanted.

Don’t Sign Up for the Easiest AP Classes Just for Your Transcript

Decades ago, it used to be that when most students signed up for AP classes, credit for college courses was what they wanted. And while you can still sometimes swing a bit of college credit for AP classes (at least to qualify out of Intro-level prerequisites at many universities), these days APs are much more valuable for validating your success in high school than anything else.

Either way, the fact remains: what colleges want to see are strong AP test scores – not just strong grades in AP classes.

That means you shouldn’t sign up for an AP class just so it shows up on your transcript. You have to be intending to work hard and do well once you’re in it!

This is especially the case for those subjects that have a reputation as the easiest AP classes, such as AP Human Geography, AP English Literature, or AP Comparative Government & Politics.

While it’s true that these subjects might feature more straightforward (or already familiar) content and manageable exam prep expectations, they are still challenging! If you sign up for them you should be prepared to devote as much attention to them as you do to your hardest AP classes.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Hardest AP Tests Either

A few AP classes have the reputation of being extremely challenging, even for the most dedicated students. In this category, you’re likely to hear about AP Chemistry, AP U.S. History, and AP Calculus AB/BC – among others.

The hardest AP classes are known as such because they cover a lot of content that requires quick mastery. Information builds on itself in these subjects, with Unit 2 concepts requiring confidence in Unit 1 ideas, etc. If you falter early, staying afloat for the rest of the year becomes progressively more difficult.

That said, the best advice for managing to succeed at the hardest AP tests is to ease into them. For example, if your school allows you to take one or two of the easiest AP classes sophomore year, this might be a great opportunity to get familiar with AP-style teaching and learning so that you’re ready for the hard stuff as a junior or senior.

Map Out Your Plan for How Many AP Classes to Take

The best way to answer the question “How many AP classes should I take?” is to make a plan!

We recommend sitting down earlier in your high school career to map out possibilities, and refine these each year as you explore your interests and gain more academic experience.

As you seek to determine the perfect number of AP classes for yourself – and especially the right mix of “easy” and “difficult” AP classes – knowing how AP test scores are distributed for each subject is extremely useful.

Our complete AP Handbook has a useful graphic that allows you to easily see at a glance which AP tests have the highest and lowest pass rates. It also has a lot more information that will help you out as you map your perfectly dialed-in AP plan.

Download the AP Handbook below, and best of luck with your AP endeavors!

AP Exam Handbook

Download our AP Exam Handbook

Your one-stop shop for everything you could want to know about APs: course descriptions, exam dates, score distributions, and more!

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