Student Life

How Many APs Should You Be Taking?

Charles Schnell, Student Contributor

September 10, 2019

How Many APs Should You Be Taking?
Are all of the tears and stress caused by smothering their transcripts in the letters “A” and “P” worth it?
Every day I observe a high school student complaining about the rigor of their course load. Whether the complaints come from Reddit or one of my real-life friends, it is evident that many students are taking a myriad of AP courses in high school, especially in their junior and senior years. This begs the question: Are all of the tears and stress caused by smothering their transcripts in the letters “A” and “P” worth it? Before diving into that, it is important to mention why many students feel that they must take five or six APs their junior and senior years. From what I have gathered with my friends at school and students online, the motivation for taking an extreme amount of APs can be summarized by a meme I saw a while ago. The format was the “Drake meme,” where the upper image shows Drake shunning the words to his right and the lower image shows Drake approving the words to his right. On the top were the words “Taking 2 APs that relate to my desired major,” and on the bottom were the words “Taking 5 APs to look good to colleges.” We live in an age of what I like to call “AP Inflation.” According to The College Board, more students than ever before are taking AP courses, and many are taking more APs on average than ever before. This creates the “perfect storm” when you consider that college admissions officers often advertise the fact that they look at the rigor of a student’s course load in addition to the grades they received.
To “look competitive,” today’s high school students are pressured into taking five, six, or even seven Advanced Placement courses in a year, regardless of their level of interest in the subject. I disagree with this pressure to take as many APs as possible. No one should be taking APs just because they have to have it on their transcript. It’s pointless. My philosophy is that you should certainly take APs but take the APs only in the classes that interest you. Take them in classes you have a motivation to gladly put in the effort an AP course requires. This will not only keep your mind at ease throughout your junior and senior years of high school, but will also tell admissions officers about who you are and let them know exactly which subjects you are passionate about, which would not be the case if you took every AP imaginable; no one is equally passionate about everything. When I was a freshman, I took zero APs—only because at the time my school did not allow freshmen to take any APs, but I digress. When I was a sophomore, the only AP I took was AP World History—the only others I could have taken were AP Art or AP Photography, and I had neither the desire nor the prerequisites necessary for such endeavors.
Now, junior year was when I made my mistake. I took AP English Language and Composition, AP Calculus AB, AP United States Government and Politics, and AP Chemistry. I did not mind taking the first three classes, as math and English have always been my favorite of the core subjects, and I wanted to learn more about how our government works and the history of our country. AP Chemistry is a class I regret taking, however. I am not a “science guy” by any means, so the class was definitely the most challenging one I have had throughout all of high school. I believe that is because I was not as personally invested in the material as my classmates who are thinking of careers in science. So, for my senior year of high school, I have chosen to take three APs, and I do not mind taking them because I am passionate about all three subjects: AP English Literature and Composition, AP Calculus BC, and AP Music Theory. I have forgone taking an AP science and social science course because I am just not as passionate about those subjects as others; I want the time to put the effort necessary into the APs I really care about.
I’m enthusiastic about math, English, and the performing arts, while some of my classmates are science nerds, foreign language enthusiasts, or history buffs. It’s all about who you are, what subjects come easier to you, and what you are passionate about. I’m not the only one who thinks this way. Look no further than Harry Bould, former Ivy League admissions officer. In the first chapter of his book titled On Writing the College Application Essay, he says, “An AP class may be a way to indulge your passion for a particular subject. But if you’re taking it because you ‘need to have it on your transcript,’ then it’s not doing you much good and may in fact be hurting you.” I fully agree with Bould here. Obviously, you should take APs, but you should take the ones for the subjects you would not mind putting the effort into learning. That is why I am looking forward to my AP classes this year: I want to learn as much as possible about math, English, and music. I advocate this mindset because, judging from what I have seen, if you take as many as possible just to say you took them, you will end up overloading yourself and not enjoying high school or retaining as much information as students who selected APs simply on the basis of what subjects they are passionate about.

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