In recent years, a trend has emerged at schools all over the country: high schools, including some of the most prestigious and selective, are capping the number of AP classes their students can take. This trend has made its way to Baltimore. This move has left some parents concerned— will my student be evaluated by colleges differently because they couldn’t take all AP classes? How will my student compare to students at other schools who had the opportunity to enroll in all 15 AP classes the school offers?

So, we’re here to break it down.  While AP classes are certainly a great way for students to challenge themselves, there are few tangible downsides to the policy of capping APs. In short, if your child’s school has adopted this practice, fear not.  

Here are a few major takeaways from this policy:

Over the past 10 years, the number of high school students who have taken AP exams has increased by 70%, and the number of students who have passed AP exams has increased by a similar rate. Because so many students are enrolling in APs, it is possible that their significance in the eyes of college admissions officers is diminished by their ubiquity.  If more students are enrolling in them, then they are less of a differentiator among capable applicants. Because so many students are passing APs, it is possible that colleges have moved to see them as an inadequate proxy for college courses, and have thus revised their policies regarding APs.

  1. “Whoever has the most APs wins” is NOT the way college admissions works.  Firstly, if your school adopts an AP limiting policy, that will be something college admissions officers are aware of when they evaluate your file. Remember that you are evaluated in the context of your high school, their course offerings, and the perceived rigor.  Some very respectable private schools do not offer any APs at all and consistently send students to top colleges. 
  2. Colleges are accepting fewer AP credits as a means of automatic promotion through entry level courses.  Once seen as a way to skip ahead a semester or even a year, AP credits have become less of a surefire thing.  Thus, there is little “long term” or economic benefit to loading up on APs. 

Ok, I understand. But, why are high schools doing this in the first place?

There are a few reasons why high schools are making the move to cap AP enrollment.

High school students are suffering from anxiety and depression like never before.  Much of these mental health issues are caused by the stress and competition that many students face.  Check out this blog about how academic stress affects all students in different ways.  

Harvard Westlake, one of LA’s most prestigious private high schools, cited the promotion of happiness and balance as primary values as its reason for capping AP classes. 

Complementary to efforts to reduce competition among classmates, capping AP classes really forces students to make a conscious decision to focus on subjects that actually interest them. Instead of taking AP Physics, AP Calc, AP Macro, AP Government, AP Literature, and AP Spanish during senior year, a student might have to choose 3.  

In fact, some schools, including 8 of the most well-known private schools in DC, have chosen to completely cut AP curriculums. These schools tend to believe that AP classes encourage a type of learning antithetical to their educational philosophies.  Because AP courses tend to cover a wide range of material that is then tested on at the beginning of May, these courses depend on rapid speed and memorization as opposed to deep understanding and curiosity. 

So, while we encourage all students who can take AP classes to do so, we encourage all students who can’t to not freak out! Challenging yourself with your course load is important, but colleges can only evaluate you within the context of your school and the courses offered.