One of the most frequent questions we hear about college admissions is, "How many AP courses do I need
on my transcripts to be considered for admission to a selective school?"
It's a tough question to give a specific answer to. The answer depends
entirely on the applicant in question and his or her situation and profile.
Some applicants might be well advised to stretch themselves by taking additional AP courses. Others might be better off putting their time into extracurricular activities.
It's the kind of question that Senior Consultant Zarana Udani delves into
during her initial client consultations.
It's reasonably fair to say that most applicants need at least some AP classes on their transcripts these days to be competitive in the applicant pools to the top schools,
if they had the opportunity to take such classes at their high school.
Zarana stresses that colleges and
universities won't penalize applicants who never had
access to AP coursework. Admissions officers realize
that a class can be challenging without carrying the AP
In fact, notes Zarana, many people seem
to confuse the AP label with what admissions committees are really looking for – which is evidence that a student has stretched him- or herself intellectually and taken the most challenging courses they could find.
That said, for all practical purposes, AP work has become the
norm for a large number of applicants to the more selective schools. A
by the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics found that, in 2004, nearly one-third of all graduating high school seniors (including those who were not applying to college) had taken at least on AP course. That number has only grown since then.
AP credit is even more common among
sub-groups of students who are more likely to attend
college, including those whose parents have college
degrees, who come from middle and upper income families,
and who spend an hour or more per week on
But even for high school students who have access to advanced
courses, it's not necessarily ‘the more, the merrier' when it comes to AP credit and college admissions.
Zarana reminds applicants that AP credit is just one part of
their college applications. An applicant who puts so much time and energy into AP courses that they neglect non-academic interests is probably not helping their college admissions chances. An applicant with 18 AP courses under his belt but not a single thing to say about what he does outside of school is going to have a hard time competing against students whose academic strengths are balanced by other interests.
The bottom line, says Zarana, is that taking lots of AP courses
in and of itself doesn't communicate much about your interests to an admissions
committee. You'd be wise to say something in your essays about your response to what
you studied – what surprised you, what excited you, or what made you curious to
College admissions decisions are always a complex process, says
Zarana. In the vast majority of cases, there's no single factor, be it AP credit or SAT scores or activities records, that makes or breaks an admissions outcome. That's why it's impossible to give a responsible blanket answer to a question like, "How many AP courses should I take?" It all depends on the individual applicant and the schools being applied to.
– Senior Consultant Zarana Udani served
on the admissions committee at
University of Pennsylvania.
Call us at 703.242.5885 or email us to learn more about how we can help you take the steps that will maximize your chances of admissions success at your targeted schools.
Back to College Features