What If Your School Limits APs?

By Kevin McMullin

What If Your School Limits APs

Students who aspire to attend highly selective colleges need to be taking the most rigorous course curriculum available at their high schools. Kids who attend schools with limited or no AP (Advanced Placement) courses won’t be judged negatively as long as they take what’s available—you’re evaluated in the context of what your school provided.

But what about those students at high schools that have lots of APs available, but limit the number that a student is allowed to take?

It’s not uncommon these days for some high schools, in the name of lessening the stress and the inherent student competition, to prevent students from enrolling in APs before the junior year, or to limit the number of APs a student can take simultaneously. How does that student explain to their colleges that there’s actually a good reason why they haven’t taken the most challenging combination of the courses available?

The Collegewise crew exchanged more than a dozen emails last week about this question. To make sure colleges have the information they need about AP limits, here are our recommendations for high schools, counselors, and students.

High schools and counselors

*Note to students and parents: Please don’t march into your counselor’s or principal’s office and demand that they follow these recommendations. And don’t worry that a failure to do so will somehow be hurting your chances of admission. It won’t, but making a big stink about it certainly could. Just do what we describe below and you’ll be fine.

  • Most schools have to write a “School Profile” that’s submitted to colleges. This is the ideal place to describe your curriculum, including any AP limits. If you’d like guidance on creating or improving a profile, The College Board has good resources here.
  • If the school profile does not mention the limit, a counselor can do so in their recommendation letters, which are required as part of many selective colleges’ applications.

  • Don’t worry. If your school limits APs, colleges will understand this was not something you were empowered to change. It won’t be held against you. Admissions officers look for and value context wherever they can find it. The steps we’re outlining here will give it to them.
  • Most applications have a section to add “additional information.” This would be the perfect place to explain your school’s academic offerings. Do not complain or blame your school. Just a simple declarative sentence or two will suffice.
Here’s an example, courtesy of Meredith Graham, our counselor in Columbus, Ohio, who also worked in admissions at Cornell University.

“I had hoped to take AP XX and XX in addition to the three AP classes I have taken; however, my high school has a policy that students are limited to one AP class in 11th grade and two AP classes in the 12th grade.”

  •  Students who have real intellectual curiosity don’t let a course schedule alone determine what they learn. Kids who get into the most selective colleges find a way to learn what interests them, regardless of whether they have an available AP class attached to it. If you’re at a school that limits your APs, look for other ways to learn what interests you. Read books. Take summer courses at a community college. Do an independent study with your teacher. Theoretically, you should have even more time for those pursuits if you aren’t enrolled in six AP courses.