Which AP Classes Should You Take? | BestColleges (2023)

  • AP classes can help you enhance your college applications and earn college credit.
  • Consider factors like your strengths, interests, and workload when choosing AP courses.
  • The more competitive your target colleges, the more AP classes you should consider taking.
  • High schoolers may need to wait until their sophomore year to start taking AP classes.

In 2009, about 1.7 million students took Advanced Placement (AP) courses in high school, according to the College Board. Ten years later, that number jumped to about 2.8 million.

An increasing number of students enroll in AP classes to help boost their college admission chances and to earn college credit while still in high school. These courses may prove challenging. But for many students, the challenge of AP classes is worth it.

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Still, planning your high school schedule to take AP classes can seem confusing. How many AP classes are there? And how many AP classes should you take?

How to Choose AP Classes: 5 Factors to Consider

When selecting AP classes, think strategically. Here are five things to consider when trying to decide which AP courses best suit your needs.

1. Your Subject Strengths and Weaknesses

First, take an honest look at your academic strengths and weaknesses. For example, if you excel in math, then you should consider AP courses in calculus, computer science, and statistics. But if you know math isn't your strong suit, then you may not want to place that additional pressure on yourself.

If you like science, you might enroll in AP Chemistry or AP Physics. A student who shines in the arts and humanities might prefer AP courses in art history, foreign languages, music theory, or English literature.

2. Your Overall Workload

High school students sometimes put unrealistic expectations on themselves, especially when aiming for a top college or university. This can lead to pressure and burnout instead of success.

Take a look at your overall workload. Consider your extracurriculars, volunteer work, other student activities, and any family or personal commitments. If you're already busy, enrolling in too many AP classes could derail your goals.

Some AP classes are more demanding than others. For example, two of the hardest AP exams to pass in May 2020 were AP Physics 1 (51.6% pass rate) and AP Environmental Science (53.4% pass rate).

3. Your School's and Teachers' Reputations

Each teacher and school has their own strengths and weaknesses. Some teachers possess a knack for teaching a certain subject. Some schools have a better reputation for specific AP classes.

(Video) i ranked all of the AP classes i took...

If you can, choose a teacher with a good reputation, since they're more likely to help you succeed in your AP class. Ask your school if you can see pass rates for certain AP classes and exams. Those pass rates can help you evaluate a teacher's capabilities.

4. Your Prospective Colleges' AP Credit Policies

Each college sets its own policies for granting college credit for AP classes. Some put a cap on the number of credits students can earn for AP courses, whereas others only accept credit for certain classes or only offer credit if students earn a 4 or 5.

If you know where you'd like to apply for college, research the policies at your prospective schools. That way, you can get the most out of your college transfer credits.

5. Your Interests and Prospective Area of Study

Although you should weigh the practical considerations above, you also should keep your own interests in mind. Maybe you love Latin or European history. In that case, think about enrolling in those courses.

Your future college studies can help you decide on which AP classes to take as well. Of course, it's fine if you're still deciding on your college major. But if you have a general idea of what you'd like to study, then you can align your AP classes with that subject.

How Many AP Classes Should I Take?

How many AP courses you should take depends on your goals. For instance, consider the competitiveness of your prospective colleges. The more selective the school, the more AP classes you may want to take. Additionally, many scholarships take note of students who push themselves academically by taking AP classes.

For Highly Competitive Colleges and Universities

If you want to apply to some of the most competitive schools in the country, you can show the admissions departments you're capable of taking challenging courses. When applying to some of the top schools, students sometimes take seven, eight, or even up to 12 AP courses during their time in high school. Selective state schools might also prefer applicants with 4-6 AP classes.

You can further enhance your transcript by earning an AP Scholar Award. These awards recognize students who "have demonstrated exemplary college-level achievement on AP exams." Students who receive high marks on multiple exams may qualify for an AP Scholar Award.

For Less Competitive Colleges

Less competitive schools may be excited to see AP classes on an applicant's transcripts, but they may not be required or expected. Of course, these courses can still boost your chances of admission, especially if you pass 2-4 exams or more.

Plus, you can reap the rewards of AP classes in other ways, such as by improving your studying skills. AP classes can help you earn college credit, or you might qualify for scholarships to help cover some college costs.

For Scholarships

Even if you decide not to apply to the country's most selective schools, you can still benefit from taking multiple AP classes. Many scholarship committees offer financial rewards based on merit. They like to see high school students challenge themselves academically.

(Video) The BEST AP Classes to Take

A College Board study found that 31% of colleges considered students' AP accomplishments when making scholarship decisions. Therefore, passing several AP classes may help keep your college costs down in the long run.

When Should I Take AP Classes?

Students often use their first year of high school to build a foundation and adjust to the more advanced curriculum. Many first-year students avoid jumping into AP classes as they get used to high school. In fact, some schools don't even offer AP classes to ninth graders.

Instead, students typically start by taking 1-3 AP classes during their sophomore year, beginning with some of the less demanding courses. They may then pick up the pace during their junior year, enrolling in more challenging options. These courses can enhance your transcript and boost your GPA.

You'll apply for colleges during your senior year, so your junior year is the time to make an especially good impression. That said, don't slack off your senior year. Although these AP courses may not play as big a role in college admission decisions, AP test scores can still affect how much college credit you get.

Try to balance your AP classes with honors classes, extracurriculars, SAT/ACT prep, volunteer work, and any personal commitments without overloading yourself.

GradeRecommended Number of AP Classes to TakeRecommended AP Classes
9th Grade0
10th Grade1-3European History, World History, Human Geography, Psychology
11th Grade3-5English, Calculus AB, Biology, Spanish (or other foreign language), U.S. Government and Politics
12th Grade3-6Chemistry, Physics C, Calculus BC

Frequently Asked Questions About Choosing AP Classes

Do you have to take the exam if you take an AP class?

You can usually take an AP class without taking an exam and vice versa. However, you need to take an exam if you hope to gain college credit. And a high exam score can help with college admissions. It's also best to take the class before taking the exam so you're properly prepared.

(Video) How many AP classes should I take?

What year should you take AP classes?

While some high school students may be able to take AP classes during their first year, most wait until their second year. Students typically enroll in the bulk of their AP classes during their junior and senior years.

How many AP classes should you take for Harvard?

(Video) The EASIEST AP Classes to Take For College Credit

While Harvard does not set a hard-and-fast rule for AP coursework, the average incoming Harvard student has taken eight AP classes. Keep in mind that Harvard's admissions department weighs several factors, so don't count on AP classes alone if you want to get into Harvard.

Is there a limit to how many AP classes you can take?

Although the College Board does not set a limit on how many AP classes you can take, you will probably face some limiting factors. For example, your school may not offer all available AP classes. You might struggle with certain subjects. And you could find yourself overwhelmed if you enroll in too many classes.

(Video) Roasting Every AP Class in 60 Seconds

Feature Image: Jose Luis Pelaez Inc / DigitalVision / Getty Images


What AP classes should I take test? ›

When Should I Take AP Classes?
GradeRecommended Number of AP Classes to TakeRecommended AP Classes
11th Grade3-5English, Calculus AB, Biology, Spanish (or other foreign language), U.S. Government and Politics
12th Grade3-6Chemistry, Physics C, Calculus BC
2 more rows

What is the best number of AP classes to take? ›

Aim for four to eight AP exams in your junior and senior years. For competitive Ivy League schools, admission officers also want to see AP courses for core subject areas and additional courses. If possible, aim to pass about seven to 12 AP exams if applying to these highly selective schools.

What is the easiest AP class to pass? ›

Top 10 Easiest AP Classes by Exam Pass Rate
  • Physics C: Mechanics. 84.3% 41.6%
  • Calculus BC. 81.6% 44.6%
  • Spanish Literature. 75.1% 17.6%
  • Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism. 74.4% 40.4%
  • Physics 2. 73.3% 14.0%
  • Computer Science Principles. 71.6% 10.9%
  • Psychology. 71.3% 22.4%
  • Computer Science A. 70.4% 25.6%

Is taking 2 AP classes enough? ›

Take as many as you can handle without spreading yourself too thin. Make sure you will have time to study for the ACT or SAT this year. An Ivy League hopeful might take 3 to 5(!) AP classes, while if you're aiming for less-selective schools, 2 or 3 would be enough.

What AP classes do colleges like best? ›

If you are going for the most competitive colleges, you should take the toughest core courses available at your school—including AP English Literature and/or Language, Calculus or Statistics (or both!), US, World, or European History, and at least one of the sciences (Biology, Chemistry, Physics).

What is the least taken AP class? ›

Many of the least popular AP exams are world language tests, as these exams generally target a more niche group of students. What's more, some languages are less commonly taught at high schools than others (e.g., Japanese and Italian courses are rarer than Spanish courses).

Is 4 APs too much junior year? ›

Junior Year

Depending on what kind of school you want to go to, you should be taking between 3 and 5 AP® classes this year. You will need to manage your time well, however, as you also need to study for the SAT® or ACT® during this time.

Do colleges prefer AP or honors? ›

Colleges like them both. Both honors and AP courses are rigorous courses that most high schools weight more heavily on your transcript. AP courses, however, culminate in the AP Exam. Good AP scores show colleges you are ready to succeed at college-level work and can even earn you college credits.

What AP class has the highest passing rate? ›


What is the most failed AP exam? ›

The most failed AP exams are Physics 1 (failed by 48.4% of all students), Environmental Science (failed by 46.6% of all students), and Chemistry (failed by 43.9% of all students). For a full chart of the hardest AP exams (those with the lowest passing rate), check out this site.

What is the hardest AP to self study? ›

[8] AP Chemistry is rated as the hardest of all AP classes if you're self-studying, at 8.3 / 10.

What are the two hardest AP classes? ›

Okay, Seriously, Which AP Classes Are the Hardest? United States History, Biology, English Literature, Calculus BC, Physics C, and Chemistry are often named as the hardest AP classes and tests. These classes have large curriculums, tough tests, and conceptually difficult material.

What GPA is an A in AP class? ›

Many schools treat AP classes differently when calculating a student's grade point average (GPA). Rather than the traditional 4.0 scale, AP classes are weighted on a 5.0 scale — in an AP class, an A is equivalent to 5.0 instead of 4.0, and a B is equal to 4.0 instead of 3.0.

How many AP classes is impressive? ›

To be competitive at some of the most highly selective colleges in the country, 8-12 AP courses may be the sweet spot amount, assuming the student can handle that level of rigor. There are no colleges out there that require you to take 14, 17, or some other obscene number of Advanced Placement offerings.

How much can two AP classes raise your GPA? ›

GPA Weight

While honors courses usually add 0.5 points to your GPA, AP classes often add 1 point. In other words, a 3.5 GPA would be boosted to a 4.0 in an honors class and a 4.5 in an AP class.

Do colleges care if you take easy AP classes? ›

Because AP classes have a significant effect on GPA and rank, they can also impact your AI score. If a student doesn't meet a college's minimum AI threshold, they're unlikely to be admitted, and may even be rejected automatically.

How many AP classes is too many? ›

Don't be pressured into taking AP courses in areas you don't enjoy. Second, balance your course load. Unless you're applying to the most selective universities, 4 to 5 AP courses over your high school years is more than enough. For students applying to the most selective colleges, you might need 7–12.

Do honors classes boost your GPA? ›

A lot of high schools uses a weighted GPA scale, giving a GPA boost to students who take honors and AP classes. For example, an A in a college prep class might earn you a 4.0 while an A in an honors class gets you a 4.5 and an A in an AP class results in a 5.0.

Is it OK to not take a lot of AP classes? ›

Making your application competitive

When college admissions officers pour through thousands of applications, students who do not take AP courses will pale in comparison to those who have taken AP and other advanced courses.

Is self studying AP worth it? ›

Self-studying for an AP exam will be especially worth it if you already have a working knowledge of the subject you're hoping to study for. Remember that you'll want to aim for a score of four or higher. Most colleges won't give credit for a lower score.

Is taking 10 AP classes enough? ›

For students aiming for the Ivy League and Top 20 schools in the United States, a good target is to take (and pass) 10-14 AP classes throughout your high school career — or 3-4 each year.

How many AP classes do valedictorians take? ›

Additionally, starting with the class of 2027, students must take at least six advanced placement, dual enrollment or early college classes to be considered for valedictorian status.

Is AP Chem or AP Bio harder? ›

However, our son thinks taking AP bio in junior year makes more sense since AP biology tends to be relatively 'easier' than AP chemistry for most kids and his next year classes are rigorous.

What APs should I take as a sophomore? ›

How Many APs Should I Take Each Year?
  • Freshmen usually take 0-2 APs in areas such as Human Geography, Environmental Science, or Computer Science Principles.
  • Sophomores usually take 1-3 APs in areas such as Psychology, World History, European History, Art History, or Economics.
Jan 10, 2022

Do colleges look at 10th grade? ›

Colleges will look at your sophomore grades, whether it's to see if you maintained an acceptable GPA or improved from the year before. Getting a headstart with strong grades and challenging school work alongside extracurricular activities can make all the difference when you reach your senior year.

Does senior year GPA matter? ›

Your senior year grades hold weight on your overall GPA, which is one of the components, along with SAT or ACT scores, letters of recommendation, etc., that institutions review as part of the admissions process.

What happens if I don't take any AP classes? ›

AP classes show colleges that you are challenging yourself, and can handle the academic rigor of a college-level course. ‍Schools are aware of the amount of AP courses that are offered at your school and what level courses you take through your transcript. There isn't any harm if you don't take any AP classes.

What is the most failed course in high school? ›

Can you name the most frequently failed high school course? It's a subject that students have called “difficult,” “challenging,” and, at times, “torture.” Yes. It's a math class.

What is the easiest AP exam? ›

Easiest AP exams by pass rate
  • AP French Language.
  • AP Government & Politics.
  • AP Italian Language.
  • AP Japanese Language.
  • AP Physics C Mechanics.
  • AP Research.
  • AP Seminar.
  • AP Spanish Language.
Jan 13, 2023

What is the highest GPA with AP classes? ›

How does the AP GPA scale work? Unlike a traditional 4.0 scale, AP courses are graded on a weighted scale that goes up to 5.0. On a traditional scale, a 4.0 is an A, 3.0 a B and so on. On the AP weighted grading scale, a 5.0 is an A, 4.0 a B and so on.

Is it OK if I fail my AP exam? ›

Basically, nothing happens if you fail an AP exam. Whether you get a passing or failing AP exam grade, you can still go to college. Colleges do not take a look at the AP exam as the only a criterion for accepting or rejecting a student.

Do colleges care if you don't take an AP exam? ›

Perhaps the test was too expensive, or they couldn't make the exam date. It could also be because none of their potential colleges accept AP credits. Either way, colleges will not look down on you for abstaining from taking the exam.

Do colleges look at senior year AP scores? ›

Senior APs do count. Colleges look at your senior courses to see that youre still taking challenging courses and your grades in your midyear report. If you take a lot, it won't necessarily make up for previous years. Don't take too many and overwhelm yourself but find a balance that works for you.

Do colleges care if you self-study AP? ›

First off, colleges measure students' coursework and performance based on the curriculum offered and the grades earned. Not the AP exam scores. Hence, self-studying for additional subjects is irrelevant because it isn't the same as taking a class and earning semester grades in it.

Is psychology the easiest AP? ›

Is AP Psychology Easy Or Hard? AP Psychology is considered very easy, with class alumnae rating it 3.5/10 for overall difficulty (the 2nd-easiest out of the 28 large AP classes surveyed). The pass rate is slightly lower than other AP classes, with 59% graduating with a 3 or higher.

Is AP Biology easy? ›

Is AP Biology Easy Or Hard? AP Biology is considered quite hard, with class alumnae rating it 6.4/10 for overall difficulty (the 8th-most-difficult out of the 28 large AP classes surveyed). The pass rate is about average vs other AP classes, with 68% graduating with a 3 or higher.

Is AP more difficult than honors? ›

AP classes, however, are more challenging than honors classes. These courses cover information, teach skills and give assignments that correspond to college classes. High school students taking AP courses will be held to the same standard as college students.

What is the fail rate for AP World? ›

AP World History is the 10th hardest AP class with the least passing rate of 60.2%. This class is about 800 years of world history, from 1200 CE to the present. World history focuses on many central themes.

How much harder is AP than regular? ›

In general, there is a lot of material to cover in AP classes, so they tend to be more challenging than regular classes—especially courses like AP Calculus, AP Biology, AP Physics, US and World History, and English. These are all much harder than their regular or honors equivalents.

What grade is AP failing? ›

The College Board considers a score of 3 or higher a passing grade. That said, some colleges require a 4 or 5 to award credit. Whether a 3 is a good AP score depends on the colleges you're applying to.

What GPA is a B+ in AP? ›

5 for any class taken at the intermediate level, and 1.0 for each class taken at the AP® or honors level.
Here's how to calculate your weighted GPA.
Letter GradeUnweighted GPA
8 more rows
Mar 1, 2022

What GPA is a C+ in AP? ›

What Is a Weighted GPA?
Letter GradePercentageAP/IB GPA
8 more rows
Feb 17, 2021

How many APs does Harvard want? ›

Freshmen who have taken College Board Advanced Placement exams need a total of four full credits to be eligible for Advanced Standing. Credits are earned by scoring 5 on a minimum of four AP tests.

How many APs does the average Ivy League student take? ›

Most students who attend extremely selective schools have taken anywhere from 7 to 12 AP courses in high school, although there are exceptions to this rule.

Can you get into an Ivy League without AP classes? ›

The Ivy leagues don't discriminate if your school doesn't offer you AP classes. However, if your school offers AP classes and you don't take the opportunity to take them all they will notice that and it's not a good thing. This really depends on how many your school offers.

What GPA do colleges look at? ›

Colleges consider your unweighted or weighted high school GPA alongside other grades, including your semester GPA and cumulative GPA. Admissions officers look at your official transcripts to contextualize your GPA and understand which classes you thrived.

Can I get into college with 2 AP classes? ›

Again, one extra AP class won't make or break your admissions chances, but if it causes your GPA to fall or your performance in extracurriculars to suffer, it could be hurting you.

Should I retake an AP exam if I got a 2? ›

If you got a 2 on your AP® English Language exam, it is definitely worth trying to retake it. Make it worth the added time and expense by taking these steps to improve your score. Track your scores on the multiple choice section. As you prepare, carefully note your score on the multiple choice section.

Is 4 aps too much junior year? ›

Junior Year

Depending on what kind of school you want to go to, you should be taking between 3 and 5 AP® classes this year. You will need to manage your time well, however, as you also need to study for the SAT® or ACT® during this time.

What is the hardest 5 Class AP? ›

Top 10 Hardest AP Classes by Exam Pass Rate
AP Class/ExamPass Rate (3+)Perfect Score (5)
1. Physics 151.6%8.8%
2. Environmental Science53.4%11.9%
3. Chemistry56.1%10.6%
4. U.S. Government and Politics57.5%15.5%
6 more rows

What is the easiest AP exam to get a 5? ›

The five easiest exams for self-study are as follows:

AP Environmental Science. AP Human Geography. AP Psychology. AP US Government and Politics.

Which AP test is the hardest? ›

Physics 1:

AP Physics 1 is the hardest AP class with the least passing rate of 51.6. It means almost half of the students fail this exam. It's 3 hours exam consist of 50 MCQs and 5 free-response questions.

How many AP classes should I take for Harvard? ›

Going up the selectivity chain, the average at Harvard is eight AP classes. To be competitive at some of the most highly selective colleges in the country, 8-12 AP courses may be the sweet spot amount, assuming the student can handle that level of rigor.

Do AP classes boost GPA? ›

While honors courses usually add 0.5 points to your GPA, AP classes often add 1 point. In other words, a 3.5 GPA would be boosted to a 4.0 in an honors class and a 4.5 in an AP class. This boost can prove particularly useful if you want to challenge yourself with more difficult training without punishing your GPA.

Are AP classes harder than college classes? ›

It depends on the rigor of your AP classes and your university classes. AP classes can definitely be more difficult than the introductory-level courses they represent, but once you advance further into the university's curriculum, that's no longer the case.

Is a 70% a 5 on the AP exam? ›

Usually, a 70 to 75 percent out of 100 translates to a 5. However, there are some exams that are exceptions to this rule of thumb. The AP Grades that are reported to students, high schools, colleges, and universities in July are on AP's five-point scale: 5: Extremely well qualified.

Is AP Bio the hardest AP? ›

AP Biology is one of the more difficult APs based on its challenging curriculum, the low rate of students who earn 5s on the exam, and the consensus from students on the demanding nature of the class. Ideally, you should take an Intro to Biology class before you take AP Biology so that you're fully prepared for it.

Which AP exam is the easiest? ›

Easiest AP exams by pass rate
  • AP Art & Design: Drawing.
  • AP Art & Design: 2-D.
  • AP Calculus BC.
  • AP Chinese Language.
  • AP English Literature.
  • AP French Language.
  • AP Government & Politics.
  • AP Italian Language.
Jan 13, 2023


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