Two questions I hear a lot at my events with high school students and parents are:
- “Do I need to take AP classes?"
- “Which AP classes matter most in college admissions?"
Advanced Placement (AP) classes are college-level courses offered in high school. After completing the class, students take the AP exam for that subject.
What Are AP Exams?
If you've always wondered about the specifics of AP exams, these facts can guide you. AP tests are:
- Produced by the College Board
- Scored from one to five
- Typically a combination of multiple choice and essay questions*
- Offered annually during the first two weeks in May
- Scores returned in early July.
*Studio art subjects typically require the advanced submission of a portfolio and some short essays.
Why Take AP Classes or Exams?
1. Challenge Yourself
Admissions officers are looking for intellectually-engaged students who pursue academic challenges. Taking the hardest classes available can help demonstrate that you're ready for college. That said, plan your high school classes strategically. If you struggle in a particular subject, it's probably not the best choice for your AP roster. Pace out your more challenging courses to keep your schedule balanced and avoid burnout.
2. Craft A Solid Transcript
AP classes are often weighted more heavily in your GPA. That answers another age-old admissions question: Is it better to get an A in an easy course or a B in a challenging course? Getting a B grade in an AP means a lot more on your college application than getting an A in an elective.
3. Start Thinking About Your Major
You don't need to choose a major before you apply to college, but AP classes are a great opportunity to begin thinking about one. Choosing subjects that interest you will help you stay motivated and invested in meeting the challenges of AP courses. Because they are intended to provide a college-level academic experience, APs are a great way to get a taste of the subjects you might pursue on campus.
Visit The Princeton Review for a full list of AP subjects.
4. Earn College Credits
Many universities offer course credits for AP scores of four or five. With careful planning, hard work and efficient AP prep, you can walk onto campus your first year with a semester or even a full year of credits, which can help you graduate early and save some tuition dollars.
Which AP Classes Should I Take?
You should take AP classes in subjects that interest you, and in which you can excel. If the C+ you earned in Honors Chemistry was a struggle, AP Chem may not be the best choice. If you love reading about history and politics, AP US History is a great decision. Consider which AP classes are offered at your school, the subjects in which you've earned high grades and the topics you might pursue on campus.
On the whole, admissions officers don't favor particular AP subjects over others -- what they care about is that you opted into a challenge. If you are applying to a specialized college, like art school or engineering school, your AP choices should reflect your interest in those subjects.