Spring is the season for choosing classes for the next step in your high school journey. Some of you may have already submitted your choices and could be questioning them, while others are entirely lost on how to structure the next year of their lives. Many of you will be taking AP classes next semester, and it can be stressful deciding which ones to take. That’s what this guide is for! I’ll help you map out the different choices for each subject and offer some insight as to what I think are the best choices for each grade level and interest.
Disclaimer: This guide is based on my own personal opinions and experiences with taking 11 AP courses, plus what I've heard from others. For more factually based information, you should consult the College Board or teachers and counselors at your school.
Math and Computer Science
AP Math and Computer Science offers five different courses that students interested in STEM can take during their sophomore, junior, and/or senior year.
AP Calculus AB
This is a great course to take before college if you have the time in your schedule! I would recommend this for upperclassmen, unless you are a very talented sophomore. Pre-calculus is a prerequisite for AP Calc AB, and you also need trigonometry and algebra experience.
AP Calculus BC
This is the course after AP Calc AB. At my school, students can take AP Calc BC without taking AB first, but it is not recommended. I would definitely suggest taking AP Calc AB before trying your hand at BC! It’s a tricky class and is only for people who are really serious about math. Seniors are best suited for this class, besides the occasional daring junior.
I personally didn't take this class as one of my 11 APs, but it's a wonderful course to include in your high school career! Statistics is required at some schools but optional at others. It's a great class for those who are interested in biology or economics especially. It's mostly calculator based and doesn’t require too much algebraic thinking. This class can be taken by almost anyone in any grade level, although it might be a bit tricky for freshmen as a first-time AP class.
AP Computer Science A
This class is really interesting and definitely recommended for people who want to study Computer Science in college. You don’t have to know how to code beforehand, although it’s recommended that you study up before the class begins. It goes over how to use Java, and typically juniors and seniors take this class. If you’re worried about not knowing how to code, read about the next class.
AP Computer Science Principles
From what I’ve heard, this class is an easier version of AP CSA. It’s for beginners and involves very basic coding. Others have told me it’s a fun class and isn’t too much work compared to other courses. Juniors and seniors tend to take this class and then go on to AP CSA, so it’s a good place to start if you want to get into Computer Science.
It's smart to pair any of the seven AP Science courses with your five AP Math options if you're considering pursuing any STEM degree. There's a lot of crossover in Math and Science, so here's a look at what you could take.
This class was one of my personal favorites! It is definitely for students who are interested in STEM in general. To prepare, you should take a normal biology class first as well as a chemistry class. AP Biology is fast paced, but there are tons of labs that make it really interesting. If you are considering a career in the lab sciences, you should try to fit this course in before college. Juniors and seniors are best suited for this class, as I would not recommend taking it without normal bio and chemistry. This class also involves basic statistics, but you do not need to have taken statistics beforehand.
I loved this course as well, and it’s what helped me choose my career path! AP Chem is a difficult class, but it’s worth it if you are at all interested in the sciences. The labs are very fun, and the subject matter is also really interesting. There is more math involved in this one than in AP Bio, but it’s not too difficult. I’d recommend students take normal bio and chem before taking AP Chem as juniors or seniors.
AP Environmental Science
This is another interesting AP class that is not too difficult. Many students at my school take this course when they want another science class but don’t know what to take. There aren’t really any prerequisites, but I would recommend taking normal biology first. This class is lab based and may include fun field trips as well. If you're a student who's interested in conservation—or simply doesn't want to take any of the other AP Science classes—APES is a great choice.
AP Physics 1: Algebra-Based
This is a class that students should highly consider if they are at all interested in engineering. AP Physics 1 can be very challenging and requires quite a bit of math, so if you shy away from equations, this class may not be the right fit for you. You need to take algebra and trigonometry before this class, and a normal physics class is recommended. You don’t necessarily need that normal physics class, but it can ease your transition to AP Physics 1. I would recommend this course for juniors and seniors.
AP Physics 2: Algebra-Based
I don’t have a ton of information about this course, but the gist of it is that it goes deeper into the topics covered in AP Physics 1. This course doesn’t use calculus as AP Physics C does, but you still need advanced algebra and trigonometry. AP Physics 1 is also a prerequisite, and this class is only for those who are really serious about looking at a career in engineering or physics. Seniors should think about taking this class, plus juniors who are prepared to work diligently.
AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism or AP Physics C: Mechanics
My school only offers Electricity and Magnetism, and I have not taken this course myself, so I don’t have much inside info on it. Check College Board! However, I do know this class uses calculus, so you should take a calculus class before or concurrently with AP Physics C. Once again, this course is mainly for those who are seriously considering a career in engineering or physics, and you must take AP Physics 1 first. This is probably only a course for seniors and the daring junior.
History and Social Science
History and Social Science AP classes are great for students looking forward to a career in law, politics, social work, and much more. Take a look at the nine offered courses to see what might fit your goals best.
AP Comparative Government and Politics
This course explores “governments, politics, and societies from countries around the world including Great Britain, China, Russia, Nigeria, Mexico, and Iran,” according to the College Board. It seeks to help you understand other cultures and how they function to get a better worldview outside of a US perspective. My school doesn’t offer this class, so I can’t provide any more personal details, but you can read more about AP Comparative Government and Politics from the College Board.
AP European History
This is a very interesting class that, at my school, is only open to sophomores. I would highly recommend taking this class. It’s interesting even to those who aren’t history buffs, so everyone should try to take AP Euro if they have time. As I said, this class is only for sophomores at my school, but I’ve known it to be open to juniors at other schools as well. No prerequisites!
AP Human Geography
This course involves studying the “distribution, processes, and effects of the human population on our planet” using maps, GIS, and other geographical tools. This is a great class for people interested in climate change, forward-thinking solutions to sustainability, and more. You can learn more about Human Geography from College Board if this is where your passions lie.
AP Macroeconomics and AP Microeconomics
In these courses, you’ll learn about economic concepts on a large and small scale, respectively, through group research projects, current events discussions, and more. These AP classes are very rarely offered, so they unfortunately may not be available to you. Again, the College Board is your best friend if you want to learn more, and teachers and counselors are your best friends to find out what may be offered at your school.
This is one of the most interesting classes available for high school students, in my opinion. There are no prerequisites, and just about any grade level can take this class. It covers a variety of subjects, from perception to mental disorders. Definitely think about taking this class if you're considering studying Psychology or Medicine in college.
AP United States Government and Politics
This is a really wonderful class and a good go-to if you want to study History at college. At my school, it’s only offered to seniors, and you definitely need a background in United States History (AP or not). The class goes into some history but mainly covers the idea of politics in society and how you can be more involved. This class is not too difficult, so even if you aren't normally an “AP student,” consider taking AP Gov!
AP United States History
This class is only for juniors at my school, and I would tell all juniors to take it. While it is difficult and involves a large amount of vocabulary, it goes in-depth into what you may have learned in fifth grade. In my opinion, this was the most interesting history class I took, as it focuses on our own country.
AP World History: Modern
This is a required class at quite a few schools, and freshmen and sophomores at my school take it. It was not my favorite class, but it is a wonderful first AP class since it's not too difficult and tends to ease you in. AP World covers a huge amount of time, but it is fairly surface level, so don’t stress!
Related: 5 Tips to Ace AP US History
Everyone knows the two classic AP courses in English as they're often a couple of the most popular for students to take, but that doesn't mean they're not extremely valuable for most college majors.
AP English Language and Composition
This is a class for juniors at my school and was really useful for improving my own writing skills. It focuses on analyzing different works of literature and can be especially helpful if you’re writing your college essays. I very much enjoyed the books that I read in this class, although selections may vary from school to school.
AP English Literature and Composition
This is a senior class at my school and is also great for improving your writing skills. I would recommend taking AP Lang before this, but it is not required. It continues on from AP Lang and once again looks at analysis, especially for poetry. As with AP Lang, this class can vary greatly from school to school, so talk to your counselor and teachers to see what's right for you.
World Languages and Cultures
This category includes eight potential languages you could pursue: Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Latin, and Spanish. I won’t go in-depth with any specific class because all schools offer different languages, so your options may be more limited. In general, AP Language courses are very difficult and strive for fluency. I would only take these courses if you plan on working hard and being serious about your studies. The classes don't simply go over the nuances of the language—they also cover culture and current events. Spanish also has a secondary AP option besides Language and Culture if you want to study Spanish literature. These courses are probably best for juniors and seniors, unless you're very advanced as a sophomore.
A lot of schools don’t offer AP Arts courses—which include Art and Design, History, and Music Theory—but if yours does, they're a great way to fulfill your arts requirement. I haven’t taken any AP Art classes, but if you’re interested in going into the arts at college or simply are an appreciator of the arts, these classes are good options to boost your résumé for college applications.
Once again, this is a subjective guide based on my own experiences at my school. Things could be different at your own school, so be sure to discuss the best academic course of action with your teachers and counselors. And remember, the College Board is your best friend here. If you're afraid of making the wrong choice, don’t stress! You can change your courses if you need to.
For more advice on how your high school curriculum can inform your future, check out our article on Choosing Your High School Classes With College in Mind.