How many AP courses is too many? Should students try to balance how many of them they take at once?


Adrian Dingle, Educator and Author at

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There really is only one answer that makes sense here and that is, "it depends"!

Colleges always favor kids that take the most demanding and rigorous courses in high school, but it's not quite a simple as that. If a student takes a very demanding course load and ends up doing extremely poorly because they have taken on too much, then that can backfire and hurt them. That's to say nothing of the toll it can take on their mental well-being, and the damage that it can have on their (important) social life and other activities.

Kids should seek guidance from people that know their WHOLE situation. A big picture view is important here. I know plenty of kids that have gone to good colleges on the basis of ZERO AP/advanced classes, and those who have taken many more than 10 AP courses in the course of their high school careers. Many kids sit in between those extremes. All methods work, and it's a question of finding the balance that is right for the individual.

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Bretton M. DeLaria, Dual Credit Program Director

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When I counsel parents on questions like this I first and foremost remind them that while college credit opportunities are good you do not want to overwhelm your child. I think some great advice has been given above regarding ensuring there is a balance so the rest of their academic career doesn't suffer, but I would also wager that while you are eager to get your child a head start not to deprive them of the high school experience. Putting on too much responsibility can take away from the experience of high school that is essential to a student's development. They need to be able to have a social life, explore their passions, and have a life outside of simply school work. We have seen in higher education an increase trend of neurotic students who are so pointed on grades that they struggle to handle the basic social interactions that college exposes them too. Additionally, I think it behoves the family to sit down and select the most important courses together and to begin to develop strong family communication plans. For example, if you take these college courses they'll most likely be more difficult in rigor and expectation. Have you discussed this with your child? Have you made you self available? What kind of expectation conversation have you had around their achievement in these classes beyond grades? What type of support is available if they struggle in theses course? This important component is something we often overlook as educators in our desire to help students achieve success, but it is an essential piece to consider throughout the process of selecting opportunities.

Maryann Aita, Writer and Expert Tutor

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This absolutely depends on the student, but you should also consider the specific balance of AP courses and which AP courses instead of solely the number of APs. I'll offer a few questions you and your student could consider for this issue:

1) How well is your student doing in school already? If your son or daughter is doing well in school, but has a mix of As and Bs, one AP course in sophomore or junior year may be the best choice to start with. If your student is doing extremely well, more APs may be good to challenge her.

2) Does your student have a subject area in which he or she does better than others? If your high schooler is great at math, taking more math and science AP courses, and regular English and history classes might be the right path. She might be able to manage 3 AP science and math classes better than 1 history AP, for example. If she is doing well overall, consider the first question and think about how many she feels she can handle and pick her favorite subjects. I'd advise against taking APs in subjects that students really dislike because it could easily become a burden.

3) How many AP tests will your student take? If your student takes five AP classes, that's a lot of tests to be studying for at the end of the year. They also cost about $80 a piece. The tests aren't required, but are often a good idea. Not every college accepts AP credit and many accept them as general elective credits, but with the AP credits I took in high school, I was able to graduate a year early with only a few extra classes in my schedule. This saved a year's worth of tuition, which was well-worth the investment of the $80 per test. Although, I never took more than two tests in a year. Think about how many tests your student will be able to handle in May -- and what other events they'll have going on then -- when contemplating how many APs to take each year.

Overall, I'd say taking one AP class as early as your student is able, is a good starting point. He or she can get an idea of what's involved in an AP class, the difficulty level, and increase his or her course load the next year.

Chelsea L. Dixon, M.S., M.A.T, Author. Speaker. CEO.

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You want to take the most rigorous and challenging courses that you can handle and still achieve good grades. That number varies from student to student. Some are able to take a full semester’s worth of AP classes and get straight A’s, while others are only able to handle one or two AP classes per semester and get good grades. The number of AP courses that a student should take really depends on the individual student and what he/she can handle.

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