If you watched as many college reveal videos on YouTube as I did during the admission process, you should have noticed that everyone who was accepted into Ivy-caliber schools took over 10 AP classes.
I listened to multiple college admissions podcasts, and I asked several college coaches on my own podcast, “Who Cares About College,” and here’s a quick answer to how many APs one needs in order to get into Ivy League or any good school.
Colleges know how many APs available in each high school, and the expectation is that the student must take as many AP classes as available. So, if your school offers 20 APs, the expectation is the student should take around 6 or more, but if the school offers only 3, then taking 1 or 2 is enough.
However, not all good schools have frighteningly low acceptance rates and demand you to fill your schedule with all APs/IBs/honors classes.
Why do need to take APs/Honors classes in the first place
Well, my friend, you need to take them for a pretty good reason. Believe it or not, college can be harder for you than high school was. Why do I think this? I’ve talked to many current college students, and they all say that college was surprisingly harder than high school.
Colleges will expect you to perform well at a college level, and APs are literally college-level courses. Taking and doing well in APs/honors classes show colleges that you are prepared to succeed at their school.
It’s also just good for your benefit. If you slowly add AP/honors classes into your high school schedule (starting freshman or sophomore year), and then keep adding them until you graduate, you can gradually increase your workload every year.
I’ll use myself as an example: I am currently a rising sophomore in high school, and I will be taking 3 AP classes this year. In my junior year, I will take 4-5 and the same for my senior year. If I don’t attend a top school, I will at least be prepared for the pressure I’ll have in college.
What if your school doesn’t offer any APs/honors classes
If you asked the question “Can I Get Into A Good School Without Honors or APs?” because your school doesn’t offer any of these courses, don’t worry.
All schools, including selective ones like Harvard and UChicago, won’t compare your academic performance to applicants from other schools (that wouldn’t be fair). They will compare you to other students in your school.
So even if your school doesn’t offer any advanced courses, you are not disqualified. As long as you are taking the hardest classes and maintaining good grades in your classes, you are taking the most rigorous course load possible.
Can you get into a “good” school without any advanced courses?
I am not giving a definite answer because no one can be certain whether a person with no academic rigor can get into a “good” school. But, I did some fishing around and pulled out quotes from different schools regarding their academic expectations.
So if you see anything in quotes while you are reading, that means I got that information directly from the school. The schools I will be looking at are:
- University of Chicago (UChicago),
- Harvard University,
- Washington University in St. Louis (WashU),
- UMD – College Park,
- Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech), and
- Michigan State University.
I mentally grouped the first three schools together and the last three together because they are more or less caliber to each other.
The University of Chicago (aka UChicago)
On the UChicago website, I found suggestions about how you should arrange your high school schedule (presumably to become a competitive applicant to UChicago).
We will skip over freshman year, but “during sophomore year, consider whether your course choices will allow you to take advantage of the most advanced courses.” UChicago is already telling you that you should consider taking these advanced classes.
Then, “during junior year, take challenging honors, advanced, AP, or IB classes available as appropriate.” We can already tell that UChicago expects applicants to have APs/IBs/honors upon applying to their school.
In addition to all this information, I went to prepscholar and found that the average high school GPA of a UChicago student was 4.48. With UChicago, it is apparent that the average admitted student to UChicago had taken advanced courses.
Not having taken any of these advanced placement courses puts you at a serious disadvantage since you would be below average in terms of academics.
Related Article: When Is It Worth Taking IB Classes
After doing some thorough research on the Harvard FAQ, they, much like UChicago, made it obvious that they expect applicants to have the most rigorous high school course possible.
They make it very clear by saying, “although schools provide different opportunities, students should pursue the most demanding college-preparatory program available.” Again, if your school doesn’t offer any advanced courses, you are fine, but if your school does, then take them.
According to Harvard, “most admitted students are in the top 10-15% of their class”, and to be near the top of your class, you should have more rigor in your classes than most and have good grades in those classes. With the average GPA being a 4.18, this makes sense.
Washington University in St. Louis (aka WashU)
WashU made it much clearer to me by stating, “86% of the admitted class (2023) was in the top 10% of their high school class.” About 5,000 applicants are accepted into WashU, so about 4,300 of those admitted students were in the top 10% of their class.
And the other students who were not in the top 10% of their class were probably not far behind. I found an even more obvious statement:
“your main goal should be to challenge yourself in high school to the extent that your high school allows, so you’ll be better prepared for the academic challenges in college.”
Like UChicago and Harvard, they make it 100% clear that they “do look for students who are strong academically.”
UMD – College Park
For those of you who don’t know UMD, let me make quick introductions. UMD is a public state school located in Maryland and the best school in the state. It has an amazing honors college, and the school overall is one of the best public schools in America.
Anyways, navigating the UMD website was a mess, but I did find one nugget of information: “Admitted freshman students have a strong A-/B+ or better average in their high school coursework and are enrolled in the most challenging courses available to them including honors, Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate courses.”
UMD is no school to look down upon just because it isn’t in the ranks of the previous three schools. Most of the students, especially in the honors college, performed outstandingly in academics throughout high school (average GPA of 4.32).
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (aka Virginia Tech)
Virginia Tech is also ranked as one of the top public schools in America. Believe it or not, it was harder to find any information from them than from UMD, but I did try my best.
While admissions officers look over your application, “many factors are considered to include…rigor of academic program.” This doesn’t tell me anything too specific, but they look for students with higher rigor in academics.
Much like all the other schools, “most students who are selected for admission have completed more than the minimum requirements and have at least a B+ grade point average.” I don’t know what “most” translates to in percentage form, but the average student did have an average GPA of 4.04.
Michigan State University
When talking about the different components of an application, MSU says, “applications showing a lack in one of these areas will still be considered; however, a less rigorous curriculum will put these applications at a disadvantage.”
Basically, not partaking in any AP/IB/honor classes only hurts you when applying to MSU. They practically tell you that “any student considering attending Michigan State as a freshman should pursue a strong college preparatory curriculum.”
Even though MSU, Virginia Tech, and UMD are not as selective as UChicago, Harvard, and WashU, they still have high academic standards.
Do I need APs/honors classes if I am an athlete?
I am not going to try and elaborate too much on this question because I have about no knowledge of how sports work in general. If you are being recruited, then the school’s academic expectations will have on you is not as high as a regular applicant.
The NCSA (Next College Student Athlete) tells me: “the minimum GPA you can have and still be NCAA eligible for DI is a 2.3 GPA and a 900 SAT or 75 ACT sum score. You will need a 2.20 GPA and an 840 SAT or 70 ACT sum score to be eligible at the Division II level.”
You are being accepted into the school because of your athletic ability, so this makes sense. I am not an admissions officer, but I think schools like UChicago and WashU, who are known for stellar academics, do expect more than the NCSA minimum. Even if you are coming in as an athlete, you are still going to be studying as a student.
So, what is my take on this question? Well, I don’t think it’s entirely impossible, but your chances are slimmer than slim.
Academics are your baseline when it comes to applying to college, and I think that not meeting the school’s expectations puts you in a bad position regardless of how good the rest of your application is.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the College Reality Check.