It’s that time of year: high school students are arranging their class schedules for next term. One of the most common questions we hear is: “How many AP or IB classes should my child take?”
Q: Kelly will have completed four AP classes by the end of this year, as a junior — AP US History, Econ, Bio, and Physics. Is this a sufficient number of AP classes if aiming for highly selective colleges? How many AP classes should she take senior year?
A: Interestingly, in 2013, a University of North Carolina cohort of educators studied the issue of how many AP classes a high performing student should actually take.
Why? Highly selective colleges were (and are) increasingly seeing entering freshmen who were completely burned out, having taken 8, 9, or even 10 college-level classes while still in high school.
The results of this study were remarkable, and are frequently quoted in education circles to this day: there is no difference in college performance between students who took five AP classes, and students who took 6 or more.
MORE IS NOT BETTER, was the finding. Not better in terms of freshman college readiness or performance, and in fact — more can be socially counterproductive for the student.
In this situation — If Kelly managed the AP advanced curriculum in junior year handily, talk to her (and ask Kelly to talk to her teachers) about how many AP courses would be optimal for her final year of high school.
In addition, some advanced classes are perennially especially excellent in terms of preparing students for the rigors of the first year college writing (e.g., AP Language and Composition; APUSH). Kelly might want to explicitly discuss this element of curriculum planning with her teachers also.
And remember: Five seems to do it. How Much is Enough? Rethinking the Role of High School Courses in College Admissions