By Walt Leung

With the early admission deadline for most schools having passed and the UC application deadline looming closer, there are tall tales of students applying with 12 AP classes while others are applying with none.  For seniors, the dilemma of choosing classes is over; for freshmen, sophomores and juniors, it has just begun.  How many AP classes should you take?  Which subjects should you take?

First off, the quantity.  For many, we load our schedules with AP classes to get accepted into college.  However, it is never advisable to do so at the expense of grades.  Any college will value a high GPA over an overworked student.  Applying to Harvard University with twelve AP classes and a 2.0 GPA doesn’t help your chances as much as eight AP classes and a 4.0 GPA. Grades first, classes second.

With that being said, colleges will also want to see that you actively challenge yourself.  It’s up to each student to navigate the fine line between keeping grades up and taking more AP classes.  Also, applying with eight AP classes won’t make too significant of a difference from applying with nine, but that extra class senior year may take away valuable time from college applications.

Even more important than the number of AP classes to take is which subjects to take.  This question is a little more straightforward; most of it depends on intended major.  A computer-related future?  Invest heavily into mathematics and physical sciences.  A medical-related future?  Invest heavily into biological and physiological sciences.

For those wishing to seek college credit, check in advance.  Many universities are highly selective with which AP courses exempt classes.  Do not be the student stuck with great scores on AP exams that won’t net any credit.  For example, Stanford University doesn’t award AP credit to a “5” on History exams, while the UC system will award credit for scores “3” or higher.

With that in mind, there are a few classes that are arguably more important than others.  For example, AP Language and Composition for juniors and seniors.  Regardless of your future profession, socializing and networking is an inevitable part of any occupation.  It may not be important to know how viruses infect cells when programming Javascript, but communication is inevitable on any job, and there is no better practice than learning how language itself is used.

On the other hand, many admission offices over the country place emphasis on specific AP classes: Calculus A/B, Calculus B/C, Chemistry, Biology, English Language and Composition, in that order.  Doing well on these classes can determine whether you get the thick acceptance envelope or the thin rejection one.

Ultimately, this doesn’t even factor in the sports we play, the clubs we immerse ourselves in, the relationships we build.  But two guidelines will never change: do not take more AP classes at the expense of grades and keep your future in mind.  And perhaps most important of all, please do not compare yourself to somebody else based on the number of AP classes you take.  As big of a fuss as we make about classes now, in the grand scope of life, the number of AP courses you take in high school really is trivial.


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