Which AP Course Should I Take First?

Lately I’ve been writing a lot about Advanced Placement (AP). Yet the gist of all those articles is the same: how to beat the exam. Until now, I’ve been ignoring the younger Magooshers, students who have never taken an AP course. For many bright, ambitious, and hard-working students out there, the idea of taking an AP course can cause a lot of trepidation. ‘Which AP course should I take first?’ is a question high school freshmen often ask themselves.

Well, let’s talk about that. Though I don’t know you personally, I want to help you as you take your first steps into the world of AP. So take my figurative hand and let’s find the AP course that’s right for you.

What’s the deal with AP, anyway?

First, a primer on AP. Every AP course is developed by the College Board, a non-profit organization based in New York City. For over 100 years, the College Board has developed tests (AP, PSAT, SAT, ACCUPLACER) used in high schools and colleges in the United States and Canada.

To understand AP, you need to know that education in the United States changed a lot after World War II. The G.I. Bill allowed millions of returning veterans to enroll in college. College, once reserved for the sons (and the occasional daughter) of the upper class, had swung open its doors to everyone. If more students were going to college, high school had to adapt…and fast.

That’s where AP came in. Launched in 1955, AP courses allow high school students to take college-level classes while still in high school. At the end of the year, students take an exam to assess what they’ve learned. The exams are scored 1-5, with 5 being ‘extremely qualified’ and 1 being ‘no recommendation.’ Each college determines how it awards credit based on AP scores. This is why some colleges accept a score of 3&4, while others only accept 5s.

Today, there are 37 AP courses. Of course, offerings vary between high schools. Unfortunately for a lot of high school students, especially those living in rural areas, the AP pickings are slim to none. But that’s another article…

Why do you want to take AP?

Now that we know a little bit about AP, let’s talk about you. The first thing to figure out is what do you want to get out of AP. College credit? A leg up in the college admissions game? Not to feel bored anymore? Go on and make a list. I’ll wait here.


Which AP Course Take First? -Magoosh


Okay, so you have your list. Here’s how you’re going to use it. Look at your goal(s) and think about what AP course(s) will best help you achieve them. Hopefully, your list is a bit shorter now. The ‘disqualified’ APs might still be in your future, but they are not an appropriate choice for your first AP course.

DISCLAIMER: If the only reason you’re considering signing up for a certain AP course is to hang out with your friends…I’d advise you to consider another AP course. There is very little ‘hanging out’ in an AP course. In fact, I was usually so busy in my AP courses that I had little time to even notice the other people in the room (besides the teacher, that is).

What are you passionate about?

“But,” you ask, “shouldn’t I take an AP course in a subject I’m good at? Wouldn’t it be easier for me?”

Maybe. Background knowledge is great and all, but it can only get you so far. Every AP course is an academic marathon that lasts 180 days of school and all the weekends in-between. You’re going to need endurance. For your first class, you should have passion for the subject, a reason to keep going when the pressure is on.

Can you be passionate about something and know a lot about it? Sure. If both are the case, jump on that AP course and don’t let go. In fact, that’s what got me through my first AP course: AP European History.

What AP course(s) will your school let you take?

Last but not least, what course(s) will your school let you take? If you’re thinking about your first AP course, it’s likely you’ll take it as a sophomore in high school. There are exceptions, of course. I knew a guy who took AP Chemistry as a freshman, but I doubt my old high school has ever let that happen since.

So, you’re (hopefully) left with a couple of options at this point. I’ll leave if up to you how you go from here. Yet if you’re still on the fence, here’s one last piece of advice. In your freshman year of high school, talk to upperclassmen about the AP courses they’re taking. They’ll give you the inside scoop about teachers, homework, and just about everything else you want to know. Even if they don’t all make 5s on the exam, they are still the experts.

Final Thoughts

Before I go, Magooshers, let me say just a bit about what happens AFTER you choose your first AP course. Even if the course is a perfect fit with your interests/knowledge/passion/etc., you’re still likely to feel overwhelmed at certain points throughout the year. It’s like being thrown into the deep end of a pool that holds the world record for being the deepest pool ever.


Which AP Course Should I Take First? -Magoosh

Do you have what it takes to take the AP plunge?


My advice for today is short and sweet: every day when you get home, focus on your AP work first. That way you’ll be at your best to tackle whatever assignments that AP throws your way. Yes, your other classes are important, too, but doing well in AP means a lot more than just getting an A. Keep that in mind, and I’m sure you’ll do your best.

Till next time, Magooshers.

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  • Thomas Broderick

    Thomas spent four years teaching high school English, social studies, and ACT preparation in Middle Tennessee. Now living in Northern California, he is excited to share his knowledge and experience with Magoosh's readers. In his spare time Thomas enjoys writing short fiction and hiking in the Sonoma foothills.

By the way, Magoosh can help you study for both the SAT and ACT exams. Click here to learn more!

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