As a former admissions officer and long-time college consultant, I’m often asked about AP course enrollment. During high school you have many decisions to make and choosing whether to enroll in AP or honors classes is one of them. Will enrolling in AP classes enhance your chances of getting into the college of your choice? The answer to this question isn’t quite as simple as yes or no.
The National Association for College Admissions Counseling confirms that colleges want to see challenging coursework on your high school transcript. But schools also expect good grades. When deciding whether to add AP course to your class load, it is important to weigh both the risks and the benefits.
How to Choose the AP Classes that are Right for You
Your goal when choosing your courses should be to enroll in courses that demonstrate your willingness to challenge yourself, highlight your skills and reflect your interest in a specific field of study. If enrollment in a particular AP class doesn’t meet these goals, then it might not be the right choice for you.
To make a decision about whether and which AP courses are right for you, consider the following criteria:
- Course and Instructor Reputation
What do students currently enrolled in the class have to say about it? If current seniors are warning you that a class will consume all your time or the instruction is sub-par, listen to them. Pay particular attention to those students who are most like you in study habits and college goals. If students who are like you are unhappy in a class, the odds are that you will be too.
- Your Subject Matter Aptitude
Selecting AP courses is a good opportunity for you to play your strengths. If you consistently excel in a subject, enroll in a related AP course.
- Your Total Course Load
When students ask me how many AP courses they should take, I am often reluctant to answer. Colleges are looking for students who can manage a rigorous course load. To decide what you can handle, evaluate all of your commitments. Assess how much time you’ll need to devote to all of your planned activities, both in and outside of school. If you aren’t sure how long a class or activity will take, talk to other students, your guidance counselor and the instructor. If each of your AP classes is a time drain, you may need to limit the total number in which you enroll.
- Your Target School and Desired Concentration or Major
I mentioned earlier that an AP course is a great way to demonstrate your aptitude for a favored subject. It is also an important tool for communicating your interest in and facility with your desired major. If you are seeking admissions to a highly selective school or department, you will want the edge that high marks in related AP coursework can give you.
Other Factors to Consider When Selecting AP Courses
The above criteria should help you narrow down your choices as you select which AP courses might be right for you. Also keep the following general advice on AP course selection in mind.
First, it is usually easier to drop from an AP course down to the regular course than to do the reverse. If you believe that you can perform well in the AP class, consider giving it a try. Just be sure to check with your school to find out what the policy and deadlines are for changing classes before you enroll.
Second, some courses are easier than others. While there are always exceptions, AP Statistics and AP Environmental Science are considered to be less demanding than some of the other AP offerings. These courses may allow you to ease into taking AP classes.They could also be useful to help balance a challenging AP course load.
On a related note, know your limits. If you struggle to maintain high marks in a subject area, it is probably a good idea to pass on the AP option for that subject. Unless you can identify something about the AP course, such as the instructor or the teaching approach, that you think will help turn things around, taking the AP level in your worst subject is risky.
Finally, if you want to take the AP course in a subject and you don’t feel fully confident, review the subject matter over the summer. You may even be able to enroll in an online course on the subject. There are many free and subscription-based resources available to quickly help you get up to speed.
The AP courses you choose are just one step among many that you will take to secure a future that is uniquely yours.
Photo Credit: Alberto G