One result of the increasingly competitive college application process is that students feel that they must overload themselves with clubs, activities, and school work—particularly AP classes. Think about it: we all have (or had) that one friend that’s taking 5 AP classes and self studying for two other AP exams.
Consequently, we often second guess ourselves and find ourselves asking, “am I taking enough AP classes?” Chances are, the answer is a resounding “yes!”
Before deciding which and how many AP’s to take, there are several things to keep in mind.
1. Do I have time to take all these classes AND do all the work?
Sounds obvious, but a lot of people tend to forget to think about this. If you’re in the marching band, have swim practice every morning at 6AM, and work two jobs, it’s probably not the best idea to be taking four AP’s. Depending on the class, you may have at least an hour of homework a night—for that class alone. I remember that during junior year, my AP United States History teacher assigned us one chapter a week to outline. This seemed easy enough, but I always put it off to the night before, resulting in having to outline 30 or more pages in one sitting. AP Physics also had problem sets due every two weeks or so, and AP Language Composition had reading and writing assignments due every few weeks. The work itself was manageable, but only when I did a little bit of each assignment every night, rather than putting everything off until the night before. The moral of the story is don’t procrastinate!
Even if the workload seems manageable during the year, you have to be committed to actually studying for your exams, rather than trying to cram the week before. Cramming will not get you a 5 (or even a four, in most cases). If you are not prepared to dedicate time to studying, do not take five AP classes.
2. Is my course load balanced?
Let’s be real for a second. Your AP World History class is probably not going to be as hard as your AP Physics class. Your AP Psych class will probably be easier than your AP Chem class. What usually ends up happening is courses that are conceptually harder, e.g. the math and science courses, tend to have less daily homework than a class like AP Language Comp; the caveat, however, is that these classes will require you to do more intense studying for exams.
The best course load is one that is balanced between the math, science, humanities, and social science classes. You don’t want to have too much conceptual thinking or too much of trying to recall specific historical events.
3. Can I get college credit for this?
For most people, this is a question that can’t be answered until the middle of senior year. However, some people, such as athletes who have been recruited early on in high school, people who applied Early Action or Decision, or just people who have a good idea of what colleges they could be going to, know their schools policies concerning AP exams.
Some schools, such as the University of Pittsburgh, give you credit for an actual class at the school. Other schools, like the University of Southern California, award elective credit for different AP’s, and waive your requirement for certain General Education requirements. Lastly, schools such as Brown University, for example, do not grant any actual credit for AP’s, although some departments allow students to take a higher level course without a placement test. Keep in mind that few schools award any sort of credit for scores below a four.
Since most schools do grant credit for AP exams, feel free to take a number of different AP courses. However, keep in mind that each exam costs around $90 to take (although the College Board offers fee reductions for low-income students!). With that being said, if you are going to spend $500 on exams, make sure you actually prepare for them! You don’t want that money to go to waste.
4. You do you.
Just because your friend is taking every AP your school offers doesn’t mean you have to do the same thing. You know your limits, don’t overextend yourself! Not sure about a class? Ask people who have already taken it in your school. They can tell you about the workload, the teachers, and the exam itself.
5. Look at the big picture.
All in all, it’s always good to challenge yourself. If science was never your strong suit, go ahead and take that AP Physics course all your friends have warned you about. Maybe history was never your thing—more the reason to take AP European History!
Here’s the deal: AP exams will not make you or break you. Yes, colleges want to see that you’re challenging yourself and taking a difficult course load. But if you’re taking a million AP’s you aren’t interested in, chances are you’re not going to do well in them. It’s better to take fewer AP’s and do well in them then to take a million and do mediocre in all of them.