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Do You Have to Take AP Classes to Get into College?

Do You Have to Take AP Classes to Get into College?

It can be hard to figure out what exactly colleges are looking for when considering applicants.

Gill W.
Gill W.
Advanced Placement
College Admissions

What if you’re not a math genius, or the captain of the soccer team, or the Ambassador of Papua New Guinea at the Model UN?! Relax. Take a breath.

Colleges look at a variety of factors when evaluating applicants, and there are a multitude of ways to strengthen your chances of admittance. Still, besides your essay and standardized test scores, good grades, maybe some honors classes and all that volunteer work, you may be wondering if AP classes are a requirement for admission to a competitive school. The short answer is that while AP courses are by no means the only reason you will or won’t get into the college of your choice, they are a great way to distinguish yourself academically.

Students raising their hands

How many AP classes should I take?

Admissions requirements vary from school to school, but most colleges are looking for well-rounded individuals who applied themselves seriously not only in school but also in extra curricular activities and in their communities. Still, a strong transcript will help you to stand out from a crowd of similar candidates. Admissions boards will be able to see what AP courses your school offers and will weigh your engagement against your opportunity. 

For instance, if your school only offers three AP classes, taking all three will weigh more heavily in your favor than a student who takes the same amount at a school that offers six. Colleges also want to see that you are willing to work hard and challenge yourself throughout high school, so taking AP classes now shows initiative and a willingness to push yourself beyond the bare minimum requirements for graduation.

Moreover, doing well in an AP class shows admissions boards that you’re ready for the academic rigor of college itself. In fact, doing well on AP exams can even save you money, as many top schools will accept high enough scores (usually four or five) as college credit. A strong performance on a $94 dollar exam in high school might end up saving you thousands of dollars on the same class once you get to college.

AP courses require that you devote a lot of time and energy to the rigorous workload in preparation for the exams. While you certainly want to challenge yourself to excel in subjects you think you can succeed in, you don’t want to overload yourself to the point that your other subjects begin to suffer. For example, if you’ve consistently done well in history throughout your high school career then your talents will most likely shine in classes like AP US History and AP World History. The mistake would be burdening yourself with three other AP classes that you don’t feel as confident in, spreading yourself so thin that your grades begin to suffer as a whole.

The key is finding a balance between challenging yourself academically and maintaining a course load you can handle. Remember that admissions boards are looking not only at how many classes you took, but at how well you did in them and on the exams. Two fours is certainly better than four twos!

What if my school doesn’t offer AP classes?

Again, don’t worry – AP classes are not the only factor in a college’s decisions, and admissions boards will be able to see that these courses were not available to you. Ask your counselor if you can enroll in AP courses at a nearby high school, and make sure to take advantage of other academically challenging opportunities offered by your school such as honors classes.

You also have the option to take an AP test even if you haven’t taken the corresponding course. In this case you could work with your school or a tutor to develop a strategy for studying on your own, although you might want to take a practice test to see if your chances of scoring well on the exam warrant the testing fee. The College Board has exam prep materials here.

Should you take both the AP Calculus Exam and the SAT Subject Test in Calculus?

You may have noticed the trick question: There is no SAT Subject Test in Calculus. Even more shocking: SAT Subject Tests have been discontinued, as of January 2021. Now that it's focused only on APs, the College Board is also improving the online administration of the AP Tests.

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