11 months ago
Admissions Advice

How many AP and honors courses should I take in order to have a strong academic application for a top tier university?

At my high school, honors classes are offered starting sophomore year and AP classes are offered Junior year. I am primarily interested taking honors/AP classes in English and History but am wondering if this will be enough to get into a top tier school? Do I need to take more honors/AP's to compete with other applicants?

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2 answers

Accepted Answer
11 months ago[edited]

Hi Lily,

Congrats on your decision to plan early with your coursework to be a contender for a top tier school. Whether you wish to attend an Ivy League, elite college like Duke or Stanford or a top LAC Liberal Arts College like Williams or Pomona, they all would like to see that you have challenged yourself with the most rigorous coursework available to you at your high school.

For your Sophomore year, I recommend taking Honors English and Honors Math (whether that is Algebra 2 or Pre-calc if you are accelerated already).

For Junior Year - I recommend 3-5 APs, AP English Lang, either AP US History or AP Human Geography, either AP Bio or AP Chem, AP Language of your choice if you qualify like AP Spanish, French, and either Honors Pre-Calc or AP Calc AB.

For Senior Year - I recommend 3-5 APs, AP English Lit, either AP Govt. or AP Euro Hist or AP World History, AP Stats or AP Calc BC, and AP Environmental and something like AP Psychology or AP Art/AP Music Theory if you are artistic/musician.

Most top schools would like to see you take at a minimum say 5-8 APs and score mostly 4s and 5s on the exams. If your school offers a 20-30 AP courses and you have a lot of stiff competition I would try to take 8-12. That's a pretty full load considering you can only take APs in 11th/12th at your school.

I will preface all of this by saying that I'm assuming you are already a very good student already and are not intimidated by hard classes or keeping up with the best student in your school. If you fall into the category of a B to B+ student, I would still recommend challenging yourself but maybe stick to the lower end like 5-8 and cut back on some of your activities so you have time to improve your GPA and test well.

Many HS students have high GPAs but it is more important to show evidence that you challenged yourself with what your school could offer you. So if you apply to Wellesley or Swarthmore or UPenn, they would rather see a 3.85 GPA with 8 APs rather than an applicant with a 4.0 GPA and 2 APs. That's a generalization but you see where I'm going with this. It's better to show you took AP Chem or AP Calc BC and got a B+, rather than taking regular Chem or skipping Calc for an elective and getting As in those. And if your school ( for those reading this whose school doesn't offer many APs ) only offers 2 APs, I recommend you take community college courses that qualify as dual-enrollment AP equivalents. For example, you can take Advances STEM, Languages, and History class at your community college or state college. You can still sign up for the AP exams as well.

Another thing Lily, I don't know what the COVID-19 situation will be in 2-3 years out when you apply so I would err on the side of caution not to assume elite colleges will be test-optional for Class of 2027 or 2028. Start a side job of preparing for the PSAT or PreACT now. You want to be able to get a 98% to 99% percentile score in either the SAT or ACT by the time you apply so it's doable but you just need to set aside enough time to learn how to take the tests and take a lot of practice test. The material is secondary to mastering how to take the test and manage your time and make educated decisions as you work through examinations.

Good Luck

11 months ago

So I cant really speak about Honors as my school just offers AP but generally, Id say 2 APs equal 3 Honors or thereabout. But there is no magic answer but for elite elite schools ie HYPSM etc you generally want to take as many as feasible ideally 60% of all offered APs and that includes ones that you shouldn't take suh as AP Music as a STEM applicant or AP Spanish and AP german. Of course this is most accurate for schools with about 20 or more AP classes as it gets more difficult to define when you have 9 AP offered. Then Id suggest just take as many as possible that arent useless in the future such as Music as a stem student.

Then for the elite school such as the top tier LACs and others like Duke NW Vandy Georgetown Emory it becomes more like just take about 50% of offered APs. As for the selective schools like UTAustin UMich UNC UVA USC it becomes about 30%.

Hope this helps.


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