Back-to-School Advice: How Many AP Classes Are Enough?

Madeleine Karydes
Madeleine Karydes

Madeleine attended UC Berkeley and double-majored in English and Media Studies. She is now an integral part of the Empowerly team.


One of the most common topics students ask about is their AP course load. For many students, AP classes are a badge of honor. “How many AP’s are you taking? Which ones? What scores did you get?” Questions like these abound before every school year, and after it ends for summer. Similar pressure to achieve surrounds IB and Honors courses. This leaves students and parents to wonder, how many AP classes are enough to be accepted to a good college? For some, the question is: will it ever be enough? 


It’s easy to recognize their importance. Students who crave more knowledge or need a tougher class schedule flock to anything labeled “advanced.” At first glance quantity appears more desirable with each additional AP subject… but that philosophy is actually based on myth.



AP classes are important in their own right; but increasing the number for appearances alone may not be wise in all scenarios. Competition is high, as the volume of AP Exams having grown in the past ten to fifteen years–and continues to do so. Yes, AP classes are weighted, so they can provide a boost to your GPA… given that you are still earning top marks.

However, colleges understand that high schools drastically differ in size and staff. For their admissions committees, this fact matters. It would be unfair to compare a student with limited course enrollment options to a student with a higher number of options. Geographic location is often out of control of students, so the impact of AP’s is adjusted to account for differences.

From an admissions standpoint, context is everything. Schools are their own biomes that range in difficulty, teacher quality, and student competitiveness, just to name a few. With so many variables in play, understanding your environment is important. Taking four AP classes at one school may be a lot or totally average, depending on context.


What’s more, not all schools accept AP scores for credit. Some students choose to take AP classes in high school in hopes of earning a high enough score (4s or 5s) to transfer the credit to their college transcript, thereby accelerating their graduation requirements and potentially saving money. But some schools have strict requirements on what score qualifies for credit; and many even limit which classes are eligible in the first place! If this is your motivation for stacking your class schedule with AP’s, be sure to talk to a counselor or conduct thorough research on your own to confirm that your time investment will be worthwhile.



To understand your position in the competitive field, familiarize yourself with your high school standing by reading through the school course listing and taking note of all AP class offerings. Then ask yourself how many you’re taking compared to the number offered. If the fraction reduces to 0-25% the course load is challenging. A percentage between 25-50% is competitive. Numbers above 50% are very competitive. We call this set the “Difficulty Ratio,” a numeric indicator of course load intensity that accounts for school variabilities.


The toughest part about school is finishing with a competitive, impressive transcript. But remember GPA is more important than the number of classes you take.


With each subsequent advanced class you take on, maintaining GPA and completing academic requirements become more difficult to balance. After all, time is a precious resource already allocated for extracurriculars, sports, other classes, meetings (and breathing!). Students should be able to manage a routine with successful academic outcome. A higher AP count does little good if it comes at the expense of performance. A student taking 3 classes with all A’s is much more appealing than one enrolled in 5, but scoring in the B range. The correct route is very much quality over quantity.


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