2 days ago
Admissions Advice

How many AP courses would be considered very strong/excellent for my apps?

For context my high school offers around 32 ap courses and it's pretty competitive so most people take about a minimum of 2 APs per yr.

I'm taking about 15 AP courses according to my course plan.

I'm not taking APs solely for college rigor/apps. I want to earn an ap capstone diploma and apply for a research program the summer before my senior yr. I've researched the general requirements for the colleges that I'm planning to apply to that could be completed in high school and the aps accepted by these colleges. I want to save money and finish my undergrad early, since I'm planning to do a phD and/or other post graduate programs. I'm interested in Science and Social Studies (Nutrition, Neuroscience, Psychology, Environmental Science etc.) majors.

Target colleges: Rice University, UT Austin, Texas A&M, Trinity College

My questions: Would you recommend I take up any more APs? If so what APs do you recommend? How many AP courses would be considered very strong/excellent for my apps based on the # of courses offered and the competition.

Thank you for reading all that!! And I appreciate anyone who spent time helping me!! <333

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Accepted Answer
2 days ago[edited]

Hi @flora,

Thanks for your question and I'm sure many other 9th through 11th graders are wondering this themselves.

My thoughts:

If you are clearly the smartest person in every single class in high school and bored with the curriculum because you find the material easy, get 100% on all your tests, and can usually do your homework during lunch or breaks, then take as many APs as you want. You are a prodigy and you should be challenging yourself rather than being distracted everyday.

However, if you get your As and near perfect test scores by working hard and getting less than 6 hours sleep every night, and time management, persistence, and a strict work ethic is your m.o., then you are like 99% of other high achieving high school students around the world.

Therefore, taking 15 APs is sort of overkill for the target colleges you are intending to apply to.

In previous blog posts where I responded to similar questions, my rough guideline was the following:

If you are applying to MIT/CALTECH/UChicago/Duke/JHU/Rice, Stanford and the 8 Ivy League Colleges, then I would recommend having 8-12 APs with the sweet spot being 9-11. Top schools want to see you challenging yourself with the hardest coursework, but they are not really interested in you shortening the duration of their 4 year degree by giving you a semester or two worth of credit. In fact, at Brown, you get ZERO AP credit for your efforts, and at MIT/CalTech you are expected like the entire incoming freshman class to take all your STEM courses over, and I think you have to take assessment tests for placement.

If you are applying the next tier of Privates like NotreDame, WashU, Vanderbilt, Emory, and large Public research universities like UMich, UVA, UNC, UC schools, or applying to Top Liberal Arts colleges like Amherst, Williams, Swarthmore, Pomona, then I recommend having like 7 to 10 APs with 8-9 being a sweet spot.

If you are applying to 2 tier Publics or 2nd tier liberal arts colleges, then I think have 6-9 APs is perfectly fine, may 7-8 as a sweet spot.

But there is zero evidence that anyone needs 15 APs to get into a any college in America. There are exceptional certifiable geniuses who take 15+ APS and get As in them and score 5s on the tests like one of the founders of CollegeVine (took 18 and got all 5s in them), but that is not the standard, that is a remarkable candidate.

If you can seriously handle 15 APs, get all As in them, and get 5s as well, then I would not be applying to those 4 schools on your list as targets, they would be Safeties for me. All my target or hard target schools would be Ivies, Top Elites and Top liberal arts colleges.

The big 2nd point is the following. If you present yourself as a primarily an academician on a PhD track, you are not a very interesting person to the best schools in America. Why? Because they are looking for outgoing leaders who can add value to their campuses and inspire other students. This is why most successful admits to the best schools in America have many other skills, talents, and experiences. So if you want to get into the very best schools in America, you have to have a lot of shiny sparkly things to get them excited about. It might be your musical, singing, acting, or dancing ability. It might be your athletic prowess on the field, pool, pitch or track. It might be your oratory ability in debate or mock trial or con-law. It might be your community service leadership ability serving on multiple boards. To check off all the various considered criteria is a very difficult thing to do so I would highly recommend that besides doing an AP inventory, you do an EC inventory (for sports, arts, leadership, community service), and Intellectual Vitality inventory for academic pursuits outside of school and classroom, and an a Spike inventory for those special talents and abilities you are trying to hone.

The goal is to be an incredibly compelling applicant for most people. If you are a certifiable genius, then you probably want to skip a grade in HS and go to college earlier. But you are still going to have to be multi-faceted to get admissions officers interested in advocating for you when the rejection rate is 90-95% at the better colleges.

Good luck.


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