If you don’t want to read to the end, here is the answer: Look into what your high school offers. Talk to your counselor about your classes’ rigor and school-life balance. Take the classes you are interested in rather than simply adding APs to your schedule to inflate your GPA or schedule.

Whether you’re contemplating honors or AP-level classes, the pivotal question for all high school students remains the same—how do I find equilibrium between academic rigor, performance, and the rest of my life? While the answer isn’t straightforward, it undeniably hinges on various factors that come into play when crafting the perfect combination of high school classes. We touched on this in our recent JUNIOR ROUND UP webinar and the overall answer is…it depends. 

Drawing from a 2013 study featured in the Journal of College Admission, a fount of wisdom that admission offices still rely on today, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions delves into the correlation between the total number of AP courses taken throughout high school and subsequent success in college, gauged by the first-year grade-point average (FYGPA). The insights reveal a nuanced yet clear perspective on how high-level coursework in high school influences academic performance in college. 

The study’s findings are compelling, suggesting a tangible benefit to enrolling in AP courses. A higher number of AP courses in high school corresponds to an elevated FYGPA. However, this advantage plateaus after reaching a certain number—a critical detail explored in the full study.

Crucially, while adding more AP courses can initially enhance your academic profile, there’s a tipping point where additional courses cease to contribute significantly to your predictive academic performance in college. This challenges the conventional belief that more AP courses invariably lead to better college readiness or admissibility.

The key takeaway isn’t about identifying a magic number of AP courses; it doesn’t endorse cramming as many high-level courses as possible into your schedule. Instead, it emphasizes the significance of thoughtful course selection. The crux is to choose classes that genuinely captivate you and align with your academic strengths and aspirations. Colleges seek students who can not only handle a suitably rigorous course load but also exhibit a purposeful and passionate approach to their education—qualities crucial once you step into college. You want to show that you are challenging yourself. So a B in an AP may look better than an A in a regular-level class, but never a the chance of overwhelming yourself or your schedule. 

You’re more than just a student. Engaging in deliberate course selection not only enriches your classroom experience but also liberates you to develop other crucial aspects of your life. This self-awareness resonates profoundly with college admissions officers, who value individuals showcasing intentionality in their learning choices—a mark of maturity and foresight extending beyond the classroom. As you chart your educational journey, remember the vital importance of balance. Striking the right harmony between academic challenge and personal well-being is paramount.