How Many AP Courses Should Your Child Take?

By Huntington Learning Center

Students who are high achievers in certain subjects often take Advanced Placement (AP) classes in high school, which has many advantages. Taking AP courses in high school helps students prepare for college-level academics and proves their dedication to admission officers. Good grades in AP courses can boost a student’s weighted Grade Point Average too. When students perform well on corresponding AP exams—which can be achieved with a solid AP exam prep plan—they can also earn college credit or bypass introductory or general education courses. 

Are More AP Courses Better? Not Necessarily… 

While taking AP courses in high school is great for lots of reasons, it’s also important that students are thoughtful about how many, and which ones, to take. There are a number of factors to consider when your student approaches registration time. Here are some of the most important:  

  • Number of AP courses available at your student’s school – While there are 38 AP courses offered in multiple subject areas, schools decide which ones to offer. Your student will need to check with the school guidance counselor or on the course registration section of the school website to find out what is available to them.  
  • The selectivity of the student’s target colleges – Colleges and universities don’t outright recommend that students take a specific number of AP or honors courses, but your student’s college goals should influence their curriculum decisions in high school. For example, the most selective colleges and universities in the U.S. attract top-tier students. Taking the most challenging course available in your high school and doing well in those classes should be a priority.  If your student has their sights set on those types of institutions, they should research their websites for recommendations on high school curriculum and statistics about the most recently admitted class, including average high school GPA and SAT/ACT score range. Even with less selective colleges, your student might want to know what the typical admitted student’s transcript looks like so they can plan accordingly. 
  • Areas of career interest – Because AP courses are challenging, it’s always better when students have an interest in the subject. Your student’s academic strengths are a good starting point, but be sure the interest and commitment are there too. For students thinking ahead about their future, the College Board offers a lot of resources to help students make connections from AP courses to possible college majors and careers. A student interested in engineering might be more inclined to take AP Calculus, AP Computer Science Principles and AP Physics C: Mechanics. A student interested in the law should consider AP U.S. History, AP U.S. Government and Politics, and AP Comparative Government and Politics. 
  • Other activities – Colleges and universities are seeking students with strong academic backgrounds, of course, but they also want students who will contribute to their campus culture and environment. That means that your student’s other activities and responsibilities are important. Does your student volunteer, play an instrument or play a sport? Are they involved in their church or debate team? Advise your student not to load up on AP courses simply for the sake of taking them. They need to be willing to put in the work they require and balance their other commitments at the same time. 
  • Commitment required and stress level – Preparing for college-level academics is a big benefit of AP courses. However, students need to avoid overcommitting and pushing themselves to the brink of exhaustion before they even get to college. Remind your student to allow themselves time to enjoy high school, friends, family and the activities that they care about. They also need to understand that their performance in AP courses matters. A transcript with strong grades in four or five AP classes is more impressive than one with low grades in 10. 

Success in AP Courses Leads to Success on AP Exams 

Students who take AP classes not only improve their high school GPA but are better prepared for college as first-year college classes are comparable to AP-level classes.  Success on the AP exams means your student can save both time and money when they get to college.  Depending on the course and the college, if a student earns anywhere from a 3 to 5 on an AP exam, it could count toward their college credits. That means your student would be able to get ahead on first-year class requirements and potentially graduate early or have room in their schedule to add a second major or minor. While teachers help students get prepared for these exams, it is important that they prep independently as well.  Developing an effective study strategy is crucial to scoring high on AP exams.

If your teen is preparing to take an AP exam in May, Huntington can help! Our individualized tutoring and test prep programs are the best way to do well in AP courses and AP exams. Our AP exam prep program includes:  

  • A full-length practice AP exam that pinpoints a student’s strengths and weaknesses and identifies where to focus study efforts 
  • A personalized learning plan that meets each student’s unique needs  
  • Development of study skills and strategies  

Call us at 1-800 CAN LEARN to discuss how to give your student the tools to succeed.