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What are AP Classes in High School?

22/03/202111 minute read
What are AP Classes in High School?

Advanced Placement (AP) classes are college-level courses that you can take while still in high school. They are considered more rigorous than honors classes by admissions officers. Each AP class runs the length of an academic year, with the opportunity to take the AP exam at the end of the year. Read this post to find out which APs are available, what to do if your school doesn’t offer APs, and how APs can help you boost your chances of acceptance at a top university!

What are AP classes in high school?

Advanced Placement (AP) classes are college-level courses that you can take while still in high school. They were created by CollegeBoard, a US nonprofit that helps prepare high school students for higher education. Each year, over 2.8 million students take AP exams, with most students taking multiple APs during the course of their high school careers.

At the end of the school year, you have the opportunity to take an AP exam for each AP class you took. AP exams are scored on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the highest score. If you score a 3 or higher on the AP exam, you can receive college credit for these courses. Some colleges require a 4 or higher to qualify for college credit.

How are AP courses different from Honors and International Baccalaureate (IB) curricula?

Many high schools offer Honors courses — classes that are more rigorous than the standard curriculum. But AP courses are typically considered a step above Honors because they are considered to be college-level. APs are also increasingly common because of the potential to earn college credit by scoring high on the AP exam. 

Similar to Honors, AP courses count towards your weighted GPA. Unlike Honors, APs have a standardized exam at the end of the course. 

The International Baccalaureate (IB) program is an internationally recognised school curriculum that aims to foster open-minded and well-rounded students. Admissions officers consider IB equally as rigorous as the AP curriculum.

Learn more about the IB curriculum here.

How long do AP classes take to complete?

AP courses usually run the length of the academic school year. Certain AP courses are offered over the course of one semester. The AP exams are hosted in early to mid-May.

You can self-study for these exams in a shorter amount of time, but it’s difficult to teach yourself the amount of material you need to get a top score on the exams.

Why do AP classes matter?

AP classes are the perfect way for you to demonstrate intellectual curiosity and academic rigor on your college applications. They can help you: 

  • Boost your candidacy for college applications. Earning top scores on an AP exam is the best way to demonstrate your academic ability to colleges — especially given the shift to test-optional admissions policies in recent years. 
  • Stand out from your peers. You are directly compared to your peers in the admissions process. Taking more APs and scoring well on AP exams can help you stand out.
  • Get a head start in high school. Study college-level material early and gain exposure to the academic expectations of college.
  • Skip entry-level courses in college. AP classes allow you to earn college credit and pursue more advanced courses in college.
  • Take a deep-dive into areas of passion. AP classes can help you explore areas of interest, like Psychology or Computer Science, and discover or get closer to your intended major.
  • Challenge yourself. AP classes are rigorous and demanding, offering intellectual stimulation that you won't get elsewhere.

CollegeBoard, the organizing body which administers both the AP exams and the SAT, discontinued both the optional SAT Essay and the SAT Subject Tests.

AP exams are encouraged as a valid replacement to SAT Subject Tests. CollegeBoard CEO David Coleman said, “AP provides a much richer and more flexible way for students to distinguish themselves.”

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What is the full list of AP classes and exams?

Here are all the AP classes and exams offered by CollegeBoard:

AP Capstone Diploma Program

  • AP Research
  • AP Seminar


  • AP 2-D Art and Design
  • AP 3-D Art and Design
  • AP Drawing
  • AP Art History
  • AP Music Theory


  • AP English Language and Composition
  • AP English Literature and Composition

History and Social Sciences

  • AP Comparative Government and Politics
  • AP United States Government and Politics
  • AP European History
  • AP Human Geography
  • AP Macroeconomics
  • AP Microeconomics
  • AP Psychology
  • AP United States History
  • AP World History: Modern

Math and Computer Science

  • AP Calculus AB
  • AP Calculus BC
  • AP Computer Science A
  • AP Computer Science Principles
  • AP Precalculus
  • AP Statistics


  • AP Biology
  • AP Chemistry
  • AP Environmental Science
  • AP Physics 1: Algebra-Based
  • AP Physics 2: Algebra-Based
  • AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism
  • AP Physics C: Mechanics

AP World Languages and Cultures

  • AP Chinese Language and Culture
  • AP French Language and Culture
  • AP German Language and Culture
  • AP Italian Language and Culture
  • AP Japanese Language and Culture
  • AP Latin
  • AP Spanish Language and Culture
  • AP Spanish Literature and Culture

What are the easiest and hardest AP classes?

The difficulty level of AP classes varies depending on factors such as your personal strengths, interests, and the quality of instruction at your school. But some AP classes are commonly regarded as harder than others. 

See this blog post for a glimpse into the easiest and hardest AP classes according to exam score data.

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How many AP classes should you take to get into a top university? 

We are often asked, “Should I try to max out on the AP courses my high school offers?”

To get into a top school like Stanford or Harvard, we recommend at minimum finding out the average number of AP courses that high-achieving students are taking at your school, and taking at least that many — if not more.

But there's no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. The number of AP classes you should take to get into a top university depends on several factors:

  • Your High School's Offerings. Some high schools offer a range of AP courses, while others may have few to none. Take advantage of the opportunities available to you. If your school offers many AP classes, consider taking a rigorous course load that shows your willingness to challenge yourself academically.
  • Your Academic Interests. Take AP classes in subjects that genuinely interest you and align with your intended major or field of study. Admissions officers value a student's commitment to their chosen academic path.
  • Balancing Rigor and Performance. Taking AP courses only pays off if you can earn good grades and high AP test scores. It's better to excel in a few AP classes than to take too many and struggle to maintain good grades. Top universities value both academic rigor and consistent achievement.
  • Extracurricular Activities. Don't overload yourself with AP classes at the expense of your extracurricular activities, leadership roles, or community involvement. Admissions officers look for applicants with depth who can manage their time effectively.
  • Holistic Application Review. Remember that top universities consider various aspects of your application, including standardized test scores, GPA, recommendation letters, essays, and extracurricular activities. Taking a reasonable number of AP classes is just one part of the overall picture.
  • Stress and Well-Being. Your mental and emotional well-being are important. Taking too many AP classes can lead to stress and burnout, which can negatively impact your performance and health. It's crucial to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Admissions officers are looking for a demonstrated commitment to your chosen field, a strong academic record, and impactful extracurricular activities that showcase your interests and leadership abilities. Quality, rather than quantity, matters most in the eyes of admissions officers.


If you really want to stand out from a competitive university’s applicant pool, you might explore the option of “class spamming.” Recommended by Crimson Education’s CEO, Jamie Beaton, class spamming is the “deadly and effective” (1) strategy of taking the maximum possible academic subject load and doing more than any other student around you. 

Why does this work? Glad you asked. Class spamming works for two main reasons:

  1. It demonstrates intellectual vitality. Many top universities, like Stanford, seek out intellectual vitality in applicants. They want to see that you’re interested in a wide variety of fields
  2. It makes choosing you a no-brainer. If you’ve taken 20 AP courses — and done well in them — while your competitors have taken 15 or 17, “the university needs to actively find a reason to admit the other students over you.” (1)

In the words of Beaton, “After sending thousands of students to the world’s best universities and analyzing more than a million college admissions data points, the information is clear. The more subjects you take and the more standard deviations above the typical caseload of your school, the more likely you are to get into a top college.” (1) 

Again, note that taking a lot of AP courses only works if you can do well in them. This means scoring a 4 or 5 on the AP exams.

Class spamming is likely unnecessary if you’re applying to less competitive schools. But if you have your sights set on the Ivy League and other top universities like Stanford, then it may be what you need to make your application stand out.

What if your school doesn’t offer AP classes?

A successful application to a top university doesn’t necessarily have to include AP courses — but admissions officers are looking for academic rigor. 

“The key thing that we need to understand is, “Can you handle the rigor here?” says Sonam, a Former Duke Admissions Officer. “We don’t want to admit students who will come, struggle, be really unhappy, and then want to transfer out because it’s difficult. It’s difficult for even the best and the brightest students, and so we need to be confident that you will succeed academically.”

If your high school doesn’t offer many (or any) AP classes, there are other ways to show that you’re academically strong. At the very least, aim to take the most advanced courses offered at your high school. Beyond that, you could:

  • Take dual enrollment classes or summer classes at your local college (especially a 4-year university).
  • Self-study for AP exams.
  • Take AP courses at a fully-registered online high school like Crimson Global Academy, which offers students the opportunity to take additional AP courses part-time online via live weekend classes with extraordinary teachers.

It’s possible to get into an Ivy League or top university if your school doesn’t offer AP courses or you can’t take them for another reason. Look for ways to demonstrate that you’re willing to challenge yourself. 

What if you can’t take a lot of AP courses due to limited space in your schedule? Will this show that your course load wasn't as rigorous?

Not necessarily. If you’re not able to take a lot of AP classes because your school doesn’t offer them, admissions officers will know this because of your school profile. Your school profile is a document submitted by your high school’s counselor. It tells admissions officers what’s available to students at your high school. 

If you’re not able to take a lot of AP courses because of your schedule, you can note that in the Additional Information section of your application and have your counselor note it as well. Admissions officers take note of that and don’t fault you for it. 

If you want to take more AP classes than are offered at your school, you could also consider taking some outside your school. That said, admissions officers do understand the restrictions of schedules!

More about Crimson Global Academy

CGA believes in a learning approach based on competency and maturity, not age. This means students are free to unlock their full potential in studying advanced coursework. In fact, over 40% of current CGA students are studying at an accelerated level.

CGA proudly offers Advanced Placement (AP) courses by which high school students can earn college credit. Our CGA students are currently studying from: the United States, Australia, Canada, China, Costa Rica, Egypt, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, Thailand, UAE, UK, and Ukraine.

Learn more about Crimson Global Academy!