Is AP Physics C helpful for CS major?

I’m a junior interested in majoring in CS and I was wondering how helpful taking AP Physics C would be when it comes to college apps. I’m asking because I know some colleges have CS in the engineering college so I figured it would probably be helpful but AP Physics at my school is also known to be extremely difficult so I don’t know if it’s really worth it. Another thing to consider is that the classes I would be replacing are Web Development (which is a post-AP and weighted as an AP) and AP Statistics. Both of these are fairly difficult semester courses while AP Physics C is a full-year course. So it’s not like I’m replacing classes that are irrelevant, both of these pretty helpful for a CS major. I’m also aiming for some top schools so I’m not sure which courses to select for the best chance of getting in. Thanks!

From the perspective of evaluating the rigor of your course work, AP Physics C would exceed AP Stats and Web Development.


Not really. CS and tech are really more about coding. There are some subsets of programming that get more into math and some physics, but that’s closer to electrical engineering territory. I wouldn’t stress about it. Take whatever interests you.

AP statistics is unlikely to give any useful subject credit for a CS major, since any required or optional statistics course for CS majors will be calculus-based.

AP physics C may be given subject credit at some colleges for a physics course required for CS majors in engineering divisions. Physics is typically not required for CS in an arts and sciences division or a LAC.

If you’re applying to top schools, they will look at rigor of course work. Pretty much every admissions session for the reach schools that we have sat in on told us this. So from that point of view AP Physics C >> Web Dev or AP Stats.
However, if the course is crazy stressful, take what you feel is within your capacity. For example, my DS2, a junior, did not take APUSH because he had a bunch of hard AP classes already, and if that gets him dinged for “not enough rigor” - oh well. Strategy is to apply to a few reaches with plenty of safeties and targets - build your list like a pyramid, from the bottom up.


CS is not about coding, not at all. CS is primarily about math. If somebody walks into CS thinking that what they will being is learning how to code, they will be in for a major shock.

@hawksgettds If your high school provides higher level math than Calc BC, that would likely be the best choice. If not, I actually think that Physics C could be beneficial, since it is a nice continuation of Calc BC, but into the practical use of Calculus, as opposed to the theoretical aspects.

Physics 1 would be a mistake. It’s mechanics using algebra, which always raises the question in my mind of “why would anybody do this?”

AP Stats is not really helpful for somebody who is interested in CS, and it is a full year course. If you did well in AP Calc BC, you should not find AP Stats to be challenging at all, which is why it isn’t all that helpful for somebody who wants to major in CS.

Finally, all colleges want to see students who challenge themselves. That being said, doing 13 APs instead of 11, or selecting courses in an attempt to guess which courses “colleges will like” is a fool’s errand.

Take the courses which interest and challenge you. If the most advanced math classes that the school offers do not interest you or you find them to be too challenging, that means that CS is likely not the right major for you. If you have already taken the most challenging math courses that the school has, look for classes that challenge you in different ways.

Take a class which you will enjoy and/or will take you out of your comfort zone. Take a class which will benefit who you are, not your college admissions profile.


Thanks for your response! You replied to one of my questions maybe 2 weeks ago and you said you probably could guess what school I was from (top 10 ranked). I’ll be taking multivariable calculus and linear algebra next year along with machine learning, both of which require AP Calculus BC, so I already have those advanced math classes you were talking about. I actually have an open spot for which I had to decide between AP Physics C and AP Stats/Web Development. But I think based on replies I’ve gotten here I’m going to go with AP Physics C, both for the course rigor aspect and the fact that the applications of calculus it has interest me. I’m pretty sure my final grade doesn’t matter all that much (I’ll probably end with a B or B+ because of how difficult it is) anyway because I plan to EA to most schools. Thanks again!

I can’t speak from the standpoint of an admissions office, but I can speak as a computer scientist with peer-reviewed publications (though no recent ones, since I now work in industry).

I agree with the comments that taking AP Physics C will demonstrate rigor in your course work. If you do well, then (speaking only for myself) I would consider it a sign of your analytic ability and willingness to learn difficult subject matter.

Computer science is not primarily coding. In fact, there are many distinct fields that are called “computer science.” Theoretical computer science is heavily focused on mathematical proof, though it usually involves discrete systems rather than, say, calculus. Other areas are a lot more practical. My guess is that no matter what, a class like that (assuming you do well) will make the case that you have an aptitude for technical subjects. In terms of getting AP credit and meeting major requirements directly, it seems less useful.

My other question would be whether you want to study physics out of personal interest or this is purely about your college application. In the former case, definitely go for it. In the latter, it may just be a grind. Up to you.

That is a great reason to take the class.


AP Stats is algebra based and many engineering or CS schools don’t take it for that reason. It will not be looked at as high rigor. If you are aiming for top schools take AP Physics.

Physics is about understanding how the natural world works and the knowledge you gain is helpful regardless what you major in. It uses a lot of math but it isn’t an application of math. The better students will try to understand the physics within physics intuitively (and sometimes, counter-intuitively), not just its mathematical formulation. The principles you’ll learn in physics apply to so many different fields beyond physics. CS is no exception. In one emerging subfield of CS, quantum computing, it’s even a requirement.


It is unlikely the admissions folks will get that granular, unless it is a small school that doesn’t get many apps, and it is unlikely that the GC will make a distinction when they assign their score on reporting how rigorous the student’s coursework was.

I would disagree with that. AO’s certainly look at individual courses on a transcript, not just “number of AP courses”, and would certainly differentiate AP Physics C as more rigorous than AP Stats.

A GC has, what, four or five levels to differentiate rigor. Their analysis won’t be anything like an admissions officer. I would bet elite schools have 90%+ “most rigorous” checks from HS GCs.

You are probably right about this, but as for looking at individual courses - I never said they don’t. I am just saying that the rigor benefit from taking AP Physics C vs AP Stats + college-level Web Development (which the AO will probably not even know how to assess) is not significant at all. My guess is that each application is being looked at for a period of time in the ballpark of 15 minutes at the tippy top schools (nobody knows for sure besides the adcoms in each school, and some people allege that even less time is spent per app).

Harvard received about 10k Early Action applications, with most apps probably coming in during the 3rd month of about a 4 month application window. Assuming 15 minutes per application, that’s already 2500 hours of labor at the very least - and most of that needs to be reviewed in a 1-2 month period. If you made app reviewers work 40 hours a week on looking at apps alone (so admin meetings, school outreach, committee meetings, secondary reviews/confirmations, follow-ups, etc. would all be happening on top of the normal 40 hours.), you would need at least about 31 application reviewers equivalents to pull this off (and that’s just if each app is being read once). I would bet Harvard reviewers almost certainly spend south of 15 minutes reading an average vanilla application, just based on the likely math. But, let’s be optimistic and say they will spend DOUBLE that estimated time on each application. That is still only 30 mins total to read the CA essay, supplemental writing, recommendations, review test scores, review the transcript, review extracurriculars + awards, etc. Whether someone takes AP Physics C vs. AP Stats + a College-level Web Dev course is not going to be much of a consideration in such a brief app review.

Quickly reviewing a transcript is an AO’s job. Course rigor is the #2 most important factor I college admissions. They are very aware of the various AP courses and evaluating AP Physics C vs. AP Stats will take a fraction of a second. It’s literally what they do for a living.

It’s like saying they don’t know the difference between a 750 and an 800 on an SAT because it would take too much time to understand the difference with so many applicants.

Again, we can agree to disagree that there’s a meaningful difference.

AOs, at least at the more elite colleges, will surely notice the difference between AP Physics C and AP Stats. Web Development course? Yuck!

Its not AP Physics C vs. AP Stats. It is AP Physics C vs. AP Stats + College-level Web Development, that too for a prospective CS major.

  1. The AO will almost certainly not know how to accurately evaluate this, unless the OP’s school is exceptionally well-known (like an Exeter or Andover, etc.). The odds of them calling the school’s guidance counselor for an opinion to clarify one course in one of 10,000+ apps AND for that guidance counselor to straight up know and say AP Physics C is harder than the other 2 courses put together AND for the AO to take those words at face value ? Unlikely.

  2. Both of those courses are more relevant to CS than Physics.

OP should not consider the negligible (if any) difference that this one course choice will make to their profile’s level of course rigor.

Can you clarify what you mean by this?

If the purpose is to demonstrate course rigor to the AOs, a web development course won’t serve that purpose at all.

I get that, but by expressing what appeared to be visceral disgust, you left me with the strong impression that you looked down on Web Development as something unworthy.

While I agree that physics is on the whole a lot harder to understand than writing web applications (at least in my direct experience), the latter is a useful skill, and people who do it well are in great demand in industry. (Particularly if they get along with with teammates, the PM and QA.)

I’m all for showing rigor, and I also agree that AP Physics C is likely to flag a student as smart, hardworking, and good at math. But there’s no reason to treat any area of study as less worthy. I’ll add that physicists in my experience do not always make the best software engineers. If someone shows that much promise and inclination for physics, maybe they should reconsider if CS is even what they want to pursue.