I have created a sort of high school plan for myself as a freshman (young, I know, but I have major stress about college apps). I’m aiming to get into the top 25 schools in the country when the time comes. I know the time to do the most of your impressive work for college is freshman through junior year but the bulk of my AP classes end up happening during senior year, mainly because of the way my school's academics are set up. I plan on taking 1 AP while self studying 1 and taking 1 honors class sophomore year. Then, junior year I will be taking 2 APs while self studying 1. Senior year I will probably end up taking 4-5 APs and 1 honors class. Because of this I can't take any AP tests for senior year because they won't even end up on my application and I’m not sure if my 1st semester grades will either. Should I be worried? Thank you for all and any help!
Thanks for asking this question. I'm sure there are a lot of 9th and 10th graders wondering about the same thing. How many APs should they be taking, when and what to do about senior year.
Let's demystify APs for a second. The main reason why high achieving high school students take APs or IBs is to differentiate themselves from average applicants and show colleges that they are ready and able to thrive with college level material. Your grades and test scores show evidence that you mastered the material and were able to excel in spite of the extra reading, writing, labs and projects. The lesser important factor for APs is that colleges give credit for them. This depends on the college and your AP test score. On the low end, Williams and Brown will give you zero credit but some State Colleges will let you apply about 30 credits worth with APs scores of 3 or better.
If you are applying to T25 schools, these include Ivies, Elite, a couple top publics and top liberal arts colleges. None of them will explicitly tell you how many APs or IBs to take. Nevertheless, most successful admits to T25 schools have taken a good number of them. I would safely say that the middle 50% of admits to these schools have between 7 and 11 APs under their belt. At Ivys and Elites like Stanford, UChicago, it's more like 9-11 is the sweet spot for the stronger applicants.
Generally, you want to take 1 or 2 APs during 10th, 3-5 during your 11th, 3 to 4 during your senior year. If you go to a really competitive private day or private boarding school or Top charter school like Bronx Science, then you might want to keep up with the top students in your school that might take like 2, 5, 4, or 2, 6, 5 something like that. It's important that when you apply to college you show some evidence of your AP Test Scores. I think if you submit somewhere between 4 and 7 AP Test scores with mostly 4s and 5s, that looks good. It also allows you to earn an AP Scholars with Distinction Honor which you can use as one of your common app honors.
Why is this important? It's important because each admissions cycle there are fewer and fewer seats available in T25 schools as a function of application inflation. I would conservatively say that in the past 2 years, applications have nearly increased by 40% while the amount of seats available remained constant. And during the same period, colleges eliminated the need for SAT Subject Tests, SAT essays and ACT essays. This means APs and IBs are more important to your academic narrative than they were PRE-pandemic. So if a college admissions officer reads 2 very similar files where both will end up with 9 APs but applicant A has taken 6 of them already by 11th grade and took 6 APs tests with a 4.5 avg test score and applicant B has take 3 APs and taken 3 tests with a 4.5 avg, they are going to lean more toward applicant A. Why? Because they are less risky of a candidate. They have already done the heavy lifting, show evidence of course mastery, earned an AP Scholar w/Distinction and their prior work shows they are ready for college.
So pay attention, you do not want the majority of your AP coursework to occur during senior year for 3 reasons. 1.) If you apply ED/EA your grades will not record anywhere and not be included in the admissions decision. 2.) Your GPA will not be weighted at it's highest potential. 3.) Your AP Tests will not record anywhere and all your college decisions will come out before you even take the tests, let alone get the scores back.
The next recommendation I have is try to avoid the idea of self-studying for APs if your HS offers them. Why? Because they don't count as much if you self-study. Colleges primarily assess your potential to thrive on campus through the evidence of taking the actual AP course, doing the homework, the projects, the labs, taking the quizzes and tests and getting the A grades. Not because you to sat for a 2 hour exam. For some students who do not have APs at the HS, self studying is the only option. That's fine if it's your only option.
Since you are a freshman, you have plenty of time to verify what I've said and re-adjust your thinking and talk to your parents. If you are very serious about getting into a T25, you parents might consider getting a private counselor on board sooner than later so your plan of action can be followed now, not later.
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