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The Education Blog: by Upasana Gupta

Insights on education news and trends worldwide

Upasana Gupta - October

AP Courses: How Many is Enough?

Which High School Students Should Take an AP Course and Why?

The answer to this question: How many Advanced Placement (AP) courses is enough? Is- it really depends on a lot of factors like the number of AP courses offered in your high school; the number of AP courses students can actually take at their school; target college desired; and where students wish to stand in their college admission process.

Some high schools limit their students on the number of AP courses that they can take. For example, a lot of high schools limit sophomores to one AP class, juniors to two AP classes, and seniors to three/ four AP classes.

9th Grade: No AP courses;
10th Grade: One AP course;
11th Grade: Up to three AP courses;
12th Grade: Up to four AP courses.

(Suggested Read: 5 Tips for Ivy League Education; Preparing High School Students' For College; Does College Major Matter?)

Typically, average students don't take any AP courses. AP's are taken by those high school students who want to excel and desire tougher academics for an extra academic challenge and, if they pass, to receive college credit or to be placed in a more advanced course.

Advanced Placement (AP) is a program in the United States created by the College Board, which offers college-level curricula and examinations to high school students. American colleges and universities often grant placement and course credit to students who obtain high scores on the examinations. The AP Program offers 36 courses in a wide variety of subject areas. The majority of U.S. high schools currently participate in the AP Program. There is no charge for AP classes; they are available as part of the high school curriculum. However, there is a fee of $91 for each AP exam.

AP exams are scored on a scale of 1 (lowest) through 5 (highest). If a student earns a score of 3 or higher, he or she can receive course credits, advanced placement, or both upon arriving at college. AP policies vary from school to school, but the majority of colleges in the U.S. grant credit and/or accelerated placement for AP exams.

In 2013, College Board reported that 607,505 graduates scored 3+ on an AP Exam during high school, as compared to  331,734 number of graduates in 2003 who earned a 3+ score on their AP exams. This shows that more graduates are succeeding on AP exams today than AP exams taken in 2003.

(Look up our directory for K-12 Public Schools within United States.)

In 2014, over 4.2 million exams were taken by more than 2.3 million students at over 19,000 high schools in the United States, compared to 3 million total AP exams taken in 2013 by about 1 million students. The AP program is growing significantly because besides developing college-level academic skills and  preparing students for the challenge of a college course load, passing AP courses can potentially save students thousands of dollars in college tuition and give them a better chance to graduate in four years.

But experts stress that college-level courses are academically rigorous and that students need to understand the level of time and energy needed to successfully pass an AP exam as compared to high school classes. Frankly, AP courses can get very demanding so students need to be prepared for what an AP course involves. Students should familiarize themselves with class materials by checking out a list of the courses and whatís required before they sign up.

The extra tests, extra homework, on top of an already demanding schedule, can get brutal for high school students. A  low grade on a student's transcript from an AP course may hurt them more in the long run than not taking an AP in that subject at all. Students must remember that taking AP courses may affect their other areas in the admission process.

For success in college admissions, there is no magic number of AP courses. One thing that all counselors will agree upon is that high school students should take the most challenging course load possible. But itís important to strike a balance between work and other extracurriculars. If high school students are definitely sure that they can handle AP courses without affecting much of their extracurriculars, GPA, and others, then they should go for it! Otherwise, they should curtail and try not to go beyond what they can do.