When Should You Start Taking AP Classes in High School?

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AP classes are a huge topic of discussion throughout high school, but it can all get a little confusing. If you are left wondering when you can really start to take AP courses, you have come to the right place!

In this article, we’ll be discussing some of our top reasons why you should take AP courses during your time in high school. We’ll also be answering some commonly asked questions both about when you should take AP courses and how many AP courses you should take. There’s a lot to unpack when it comes to AP courses, so get ready.

What are AP Classes in High School?What are AP Classes in High School?

AP classes are a way for high school students to push themselves academically and take courses that are designed to be closer to a college-level course. These courses are great ways to delve deeper into a subject and allow students to stand out on college applications and potentially receive college credit.

Since these courses are designed to be similar to college courses, they are taken in high school. You might be able to find odd examples of children online who have taken AP exams before they even enter high school. The exams are designed for high schoolers. The vast majority of students taking any AP exam are in high school and are preparing for college.

There are 38 different courses that you can pick from, which AP courses you want to take. Courses range from physics, biology, and chemistry, to English and language arts, to history, and everything in between. While there are a lot of choices when it comes to AP courses, each school will only offer a select number of these courses, so your choices will be limited by what is available in your area.

Why Should You Take AP Classes?

Why Should You Take AP Classes?

There are lots of reasons why you should consider taking AP classes during your time in high school, but these are some of our favorite reasons:

Learning more about a subject

Learning more about a subject and increasing your knowledge should always be the first reason why you choose to take an AP course. Yes, the other reasons are important and likely to play a role, but if you are not interested in learning about a subject and dedicating extra time and energy to studying for it, don’t take the AP.

Adding to your college application

AP exams are often viewed favorably by college admissions counselors. This doesn’t mean that you will automatically get into college just because you take a lot of AP exams in high school, but it might give you a leg up over someone who hasn’t. Being able to make your application stand out is key to getting into college, and taking AP exams is one way to do that.

Potential for future college credit

Taking a class now that has the potential to give you credit in the future and make your life easier is a massive draw for many students. While not all colleges allow you to transfer AP credits to their system, most will let AP credits count for something. Schools allow you to utilize your AP credits without giving you credit by letting you skip an intro course. This can save you lots of time and money in college.

These three major reasons are only scratching the surface of possible reasons why someone might want to take an AP course in high school. Everyone has their own unique rationale and motivation for taking these courses, so just think about why you want to take an AP course.

When to Take AP Classes?

When to Take AP Classes?

Figuring out when you should start taking AP classes in high school can be hard, but part of what makes this question so hard to answer is that there is no correct answer. While each school will have its rules surrounding when you can start taking AP classes and how many AP classes you can take at once, most students generally wait until their junior or senior year to start taking these courses.

The most common AP classes that 10th graders take are AP European History and AP World History, but taking AP courses that early in high school is not common. In fact, the College Board, which publishes all AP exams, recommends against taking AP courses until you are in 11th or 12th grade, but there is no rule preventing you from taking them.

Most AP classes for high school students are geared toward a student who is at an 11th or 12th-grade level academically. This means that there will be cases when a 10th-grade or even 9th-grade student might be academically ready, but this is not common. In general, there are no 9th-grade AP classes, which is to say, no AP classes geared towards a student who is at a 9th-grade level academically.

Typically, AP classes for juniors are the AP equivalents of the courses they would normally take, but that depends on their school. For example, if a school teaches biology during a student’s junior year, then AP biology would be a great example of an AP for juniors at that school.

The same thing goes for AP classes for seniors, although with a little more wiggle room. Again, if chemistry, for example, is the science class that seniors take, then AP chemistry might be a common AP course that seniors take. Seniors are also more likely to take AP language courses, AP music or art courses, or more special interest AP courses that fall outside of the required course of study at their school.

That said, check with your school to see if they have any specific rules about when you can take certain AP courses. For example, if you want to take an AP course outside of your grade level’s curriculum, you may have to petition the school to let you. Don’t let that deter you from taking the courses you want, but make sure you keep in mind all the rules.

How Many AP Classes Should You Take?

How Many AP Classes Should You Take?

Trying to figure out how many AP classes you should take is hard. While the number of AP courses you are allowed to take might be relatively high (the specific number depends on the school, though), how many you should take is a different story.

There are two parts to this question: how many AP classes you should take in total and how many AP classes you should take at one time. We’ll be answering both.

How many AP classes you should take during your whole time in high school is up to you. Generally, taking more than about 10 AP courses during your time in high school is overkill. Taking tons and tons of AP courses will likely result in you doing poorly in at least a few of those courses, meaning they won’t count for college credit and will likely be more of a hindrance than a help when it comes to getting into college.

How many AP classes you should take in one year is also up to you. Just remember that AP courses take more time to study and prepare for than other courses, so plan accordingly. If you plan on taking a lot of AP courses, make sure you start taking them sophomore year so you can spread them out. Taking more than 4 AP courses a year is overwhelming to many students, so generally, sticking with 3 or 4 courses a year is a good idea.

Recommended Number of AP Classes to Take

Recommended Number of AP Classes to Take

No set recommended number of AP classes is necessary for college admission. Talk to your school’s guidance counselor to help you figure out how many AP classes are recommended at your school since each school is unique and different. College admission teams have said that taking at least one AP course during your time in high school is a good idea but not required.

Another way to think about the recommended number of AP classes to take is by reflecting on what type of college or university you want to attend. Like we said before, it’s always recommended that you take at least one AP course, but if you are looking to attend a highly competitive college, you will need more.

State schools and large public universities won’t require you to have taken any AP courses, but taking a few is a good idea, especially if the state school you are applying to is highly competitive. The average student at a state university will have probably taken around two AP courses, but many will have taken a lot more, and many will have taken none.

Similarly, more selective private schools, such as small liberal arts schools, won’t require that you take any AP courses in high school. The difference between these schools is that you will likely stand out from your peers if you do not take any AP courses. Students at these schools will generally have in the range of four to eight AP courses.

Again, even Ivy League schools don’t require you to take AP courses, but you will really stick out here if you haven’t taken any. Students at Ivy League schools will typically have taken at least eight to ten AP classes, but many probably more than that. These schools are the most competitive, so don’t take their numbers as your recommendation if these are not the schools you are interested in.

Wrapping Things Up: When Should You Start Taking AP Classes in High School?

Figuring out when you should start taking AP courses is an individual decision, but generally, knowing what others are doing can help guide your process. Make sure you take some time to look up your school’s rules surrounding AP classes and speak to a guidance counselor if you have any questions. We can give you all the recommendations we want, but when it comes to the recommendations for your school, they will know best.

If you enjoyed this article, check out some of our other AP-related content below: 

> How to Study for AP Classes and Pass Them?

> Are AP Exams Worth It?

> How to Get into AP Classes in High School?

Professor Conquer
Professor Conquer

Professor Conquer started Conquer Your Exam in 2018 to help students feel more confident and better prepared for their tough tests. Prof excelled in high school, graduating top of his class and receiving admissions into several Ivy League and top 15 schools. He has helped many students through the years tutoring and mentoring K-12, consulting seniors through the college admissions process, and writing extensive how-to guides for school.

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