For some people, Advanced Placement credits seem to have become a kind of currency in college admissions. The thinking seems to be that it takes so many AP credits to win serious consideration at competitive colleges and universities.

But in reality, admissions officers take a much more nuanced view of AP credit. Not having AP courses on your transcript won’t necessarily keep you out of selective schools – and having a string of AP courses won’t necessarily get you in.

When a college admissions committee looks at your high school transcript, they aren’t looking to see how many AP courses you took. Rather, they’re looking for signs that you’re intellectually curious and seek out academic challenges. That can mean taking appropriate AP courses, but it doesn’t have to. It certainly doesn’t mean automatically signing up for every AP class you can squeeze into your schedule, or giving up other activities you love to make time for another AP class.

Admissions officers understand that not everyone goes to a school that offers an AP (or similar) options. They also understand that a student might have perfectly good reasons for choosing to forego a particular AP course. Again, what they’re looking for is evidence that you’ve sought out academic and intellectual challenges. Someone who excelled in college prep courses at a school that is too small to support an AP program could meet that criteria, despite not having AP credit.

That said, however, AP programs have become so common that for many college-bound students the question is not whether or not to take AP classes but rather where to draw the line. How many AP classes constitute a reasonable workload? Which AP classes are the best ones to take?

The answers to those questions will vary from one applicant to another, depending on their situation and profile. The important thing is to remember that college admissions committees will be looking for evidence of intellectual ability and curiosity, not just for a certain number of AP credits. If you had the opportunity to take AP courses but chose not to, it may not be a bad idea to explain why you made that choice somewhere in your application. But you don’t need to feel that your admissions chances are automatically doomed because you don’t have a particular AP class on your transcripts.

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