How imp is AP Physics C E&M for admissions to top college?

dd wants to apply to top colleges with a likely major in math. She has completed AP Physics C (Mechanics) and was going to take AP Physics C E&M next year. However the physics teacher does not teach well and failed to bring out students interest or understanding in the subject. He is new and trying, and friendly too but the class is of low quality. OTOH the teachers teaching AP Biology and AP Psych are experienced and well liked by students. dd has already had Honors Biology and thinks it would be worth taking AP Bio as the teacher is excellent. So she is considering taking these classes and not Physics. She could potentially take Physics and Psych since psych is supposed to be an easy class but physics and bio would be too heavy a load along with the rest of the classes she has including AP Calc BC and the senior project.

Question - will it hurt her chances of admission to highly selective colleges (including LACs) if she does not take the second part of AP Physics C? DO they specifically value this class over other AP science classes (such as bio or psych that dont require calc). ?

Your DD should be fine with a different AP science class. DD was told by her guidance counselor that AP Physics C is geared for future engineers. Having said that, computer science is often found in the engineering colleges of many large universities. Mathematics, however, is often elsewhere (with Arts & Sciences or whatnot). In a LAC it will matter even less.

Short answer: no that one course choice won’t hurt her chances of admission.

My opinion as an AP Physics teacher: Most students considering math, physics, and engineering as majors should take an AP Physics course in high school. Particularly for highly selective colleges. Also, from students I’ve had, having taken at least 5 AP courses in total over the high school experience seems to be adequate to be considered for highly selective schools. Beyond that, it really depends on what the student brings to the table as a total package. I’ve had students admitted to highly selective colleges and universities as STEM majors with 1, 2, or 3 AP Physics courses under their belts. In general, I’d personally much rather see students go for what is important to them than chase some imaginary checklist of achievements. I see a lot of students who stress themselves out trying to max out the number of APs they can take or the number of ECs they can check off, but that doesn’t necessarily lead to better admissions outcomes in my experience.

My experience as a parent: DD20 is off to HMC this fall and while she did opt to take 2 years of AP Physics, she opted for APPhys2 her senior year rather than the combo of APPC Mech & E&M. She chose not to participate in activities seen at her school as must-do for high achievers (NHS, etc) because they didn’t fit with what she wanted from her high school experience. She was lucky and got into her dream school, but even if she hadn’t been accepted there, she was prepared to be happy with a number of schools.

Thanks @Eagledad33 and @Groundwork2022

So what I am worried about (based on advice I have heard elsewhere) is that since her high school offers both Physics classes, she would be expected to take them both, particularly Physics C E&M which uses more calculus.

If she does not take that class would it appear that her coursework lacked rigor? Would it raise a concern that she was not challenging herself?
Would there be any opportunity to explain that she opted not to take it so as to avail classes that were better taught / where she could be more engaged?

Your concern is precisely why I mentioned my daughter taking AP Physics 2 instead of the option of AP Physics C Mechanics & E&M. In her case, it is obvious that there is a difference in level of difficulty between AP Physics 2 & AP Physics C. And it’s not due to the calculus involved but rather that we had both calculus based courses crammed into a single course slot in one school year. When taught in that style (not uncommon) it’s definitely an accelerated pace compared to a typical AP course.

If we offered them as separate courses, most of my students would consider either topic of AP Physics C slightly easier than the algebra based AP Physics courses as well as AP Bio & AP Chem. And the passing 5 rates for the calculus based AP Physics courses bear this out. Yes, it can be a challenging course, but so are the other AP sciences. So I would not say that by choosing AP Bio over AP Phys C E&M that most schools would see that as choosing less rigor.

Your DD would not be expected to take Physics C simply because the high school offers it. If you are worried about how colleges will perceive your daughter’s course rigor, talk to your guidance counselor. Specifically ask what she would have to take in order to get the “most rigorous” box checked on his/her letter of recommendation. Do not attempt to explain why she didn’t take Physics C as that would appear to be pandering, which isn’t a good look. AP Bio and AP Chem are considered very rigorous, and are appropriate substitutes for non-engineering hopefuls.

I agree with Groundwork, have your D talk to her guidance counselor about how they will assess course rigor in their LOR. Be aware that some schools won’t share that information.

FWIW, my D’s school did the full AP physics C in one year - Mechanics in the Fall, E&M in the Spring. There were only 14 students in the class and all of them went on to engineering programs. If your D was considering engineering I would say to definitely take E&M but as a math major, I don’t think it’s as necessary.