How Many AP Classes to Take

Dear Ivey Coach:

Please settle our family debate about the number of APs my son needs to take in 11th and 12th grades.

He was in all Honors classes in 9th grade and this year he has taken 2 APs and 4 Honors classes. He attends a big public high school and he could take 6 APs both years for a total of 14 APs by the time he graduates.

Our son is on the fence. He thinks he could do it, but it would limit his ability to take certain electives and pursue some of his extracurricular interests. For example, he’d like to take the Photography class and stay involved with yearbook and the student newspaper, but he couldn’t take the class and he probably won’t have time for both yearbook and the student newspaper.

His father thinks our son should buckle down and do the APs because our son is highly ranked in his class and he needs to take this many APs to stay in contention for valedictorian or salutatorian. I’m in favor of him taking 3 or 4 APs each year, so he can do the photography class and stay with yearbook and the student newspaper.

What will all agree about is that he should do whatever will be best for his chances for getting into one of his top choice colleges – right now, his top 3 choices are Harvard, Stanford, and Princeton. How many APs does he need to take to get into one of those colleges?

Dear Mom:

Although there is no magic number of APs required for admission to the most selective schools, academics are always the first priority! Since your goal is to maximize your son’s chances for getting into one of his top choice schools (all of which fall into this highly selective category), he should prioritize his academic choices and performance, even if that means he needs to temporarily back off of one of his extracurricular activities (he can always take a great photography class in college or over the summer).

These schools will expect your son to be taking 5 academic courses each term and to maximize the rigor of those courses by taking each of them at the highest level he can handle (e.g. Honors / AP / College Courses / IB). Instead of photography class, your son should consider taking an academic elective, like additional English, Math, Social Studies, Science, or Foreign Language.