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How many APs should you take in High School, and how do AP courses help with admissions?

The question of how many APs (Advanced Placement courses) one should take in high school is one of the most commonly asked questions from students enrolled in Top Test Prep’s private admissions counseling program. I would say that the number of APs you take in high school should depend on where you’re applying and whether you can balance your school, extracurricular activities, and athletic life.

I would recommend that students applying to the most selective colleges use the following rules in selecting AP courses:

(1) Take at least 1/2 the number of APs offered by your high school. The more, the better. In fact, because college admissions officers see your school’s profile when you apply, they’ll know exactly how hard you challenged yourself in school. If you take 2 APs and where 10 APs were offered, you’re missing out on a chance to shine.

(2) Challenge yourself with different courses. For example, if you’re more skilled in math, take AP US History. If you’re more skilled in Writing, challenge yourself in AP Calculus AB or BC.

(3) If your school doesn’t offer APs, but instead is on the IB program, enroll in the IB program – you’ll see a major benefit when applying to colleges. In fact, some argue that this program is more rigorous in preparing students for college.

(4) If your school offers neither APs, nor IBs, take courses at a community college or local University. Many high schools are missing challenging courses and lack the fundamentals needed to prepare students for college level course work. You can often attain a higher level of education outside of the classroom in local college settings.

However, there are important things to consider before taking as many APs as possible:

Can you allocate at least 1.5 hours a day per AP course and still fit in other extracurricular activities?
Are you trying to get into very selective colleges?
Can you manage an appropriate sports, school, and student life while taking tougher courses?

If you answered yes to all three of these questions, then I would recommend fully challenging yourself with as many AP courses as possible.


Ross Blankenship is a college admissions expert, and the Chairman of Top Test Prep. For more information on Top Test Prep’s private tutoring and admissions counseling programs, call (800) 501-Prep.

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