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Should You Load Up on Extracurricular Activities in High School?

If you’re applying for college, you’ve probably heard that colleges want to see a record of extracurricular activities on your high school transcript. But how many extracurriculars do you need—and can you participate too much?

Yes, you can participate too much—if your extracurricular activities are interfering with your ability to get the best grades possible. While schools are looking for activities, what they’re looking for most is grades. They want to see that you’ve taken the at least some of the most challenging classes available to you in your high school, and that you’ve done well in these classes. And they want to see an outstanding GPA. If you have to choose between an A and an activity, the decision should be a no-brainer.

As for the number of activities, you don’t have to join everything in sight. What colleges like to see is commitment to one or a few activities over the course of a few years. Ideally, they like to see that you’ve taken on leadership positions in these activities. For example, writing extensively for the high school newspaper for four years, and then becoming the editor, looks fantastic, even if that’s your only activity. Belonging to a dozen activities for shorter periods of time with no leadership position doesn’t look nearly as strong.

In addition, colleges like to see activities that relate to other parts of your application, including your proposed major, if you have one. If you’re the editor of your school newspaper and want to major in English or journalism, that looks great.

This doesn’t mean you can’t join activities just because they sound fun, or that you can’t try out a bunch of stuff until you find something you like. However, keep in mind that some extracurriculars look better than others, and that you can overdo it if your grades suffer.

Can You Take Too Many Advanced Placement Classes?

College admissions are competitive, especially at elite schools. High school students put a good deal of effort into applying for the most selective schools, and one of the strategies they use is to take Advanced Placement classes. But can you overdo it and take too many AP classes?

First, in case you’re not familiar with the concept, an Advanced Placement class is an academically rigorous high school course that’s designed to help students do well on an Advanced Placement test, which is administered by an organization called CollegeBoard. These courses are designed to mimic the difficulty level of a college course. Students who take Advanced Placement classes are not required to take the AP test. If they do take the test, they are scored from on a scale from 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest. Most colleges will give students college credit if they earn at least a 4 on the AP test, and some also award credit for a score of 3.

Why take an AP class? Aside from the opportunity to earn college credit, AP classes look great on a college application. They demonstrate that a student is willing to work hard and do college level work. And because of this, it’s become the norm for students to take AP classes– and lots of them– if they want to apply to selective colleges.

But can you overdo it and take too many AP classes? Some students take as many as they possibly can. If you’re applying to a competitive school, this will certainly look good on an application, especially since you’re competing with so many other worthy students who will have taken lots of AP classes.

When deciding how many AP classes to take, keep in mind that many high schools weigh them differently than regular classes. Often an extra grade point is given for an AP class. Thus, you may work your tail off for a C+ in AP Calculus, but this may count as an B+ on your GPA. This may make it easier to take a heavy load of AP classes.

However, you can overdo it—if you take so many AP classes that your grades drop overall. Remember, these classes are designed to be as difficult as a college class—so if you’re taken 4 or 5 at once, you’re taking a full college schedule, along with your other high school requirements! If you can actually pull this off while still maintaining a stellar GPA, good for you—but this is a tall order. And since selective schools also want to see lots of school and community involvement, a schedule filled with AP classes can interfere with your ability to participate in these activities.

It may be worth your while to pick and choose the AP classes that are most valuable to you. If you’re interested in a liberal arts degree, courses such as AP English and History should be priority, and if you want to be an engineer, take AP Physics and Chemistry. But if you’re never planning to take Physics in college, why take AP Physics? And if you struggle a bit with writing and hate classic literature, why suffer through AP English? The time you’ll spend struggling though an AP class that’s excessively difficult for you will be taken away from time you could spent in a AP class that you really need for your major.

So, yes, take advantage of Advanced Placement classes. But be smart when choosing them. There probably are better things you can do to enhance your college application than to take a class you loathe.


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