Do you have recommendations on how many AP courses a student should have at the time of applying to college?
The expectations at the most selective colleges in the country are that the student will go to the highest level available in all five major subjects (math, science, history/social science, English and foreign language). This can and often does mean going to the Advanced Placement level in all five subjects by the time the student is a senior, though not all high schools will offer AP level courses in all subject areas. If they are not offered, the student will not be penalized during the college admissions process for not taking them (you can’t take what isn’t available!). Those colleges also expect to see excellent performance in those courses, ideally As in everything taken in high school.
As colleges get less selective, the expectations in terms of curriculum rigor get slightly lower, and most schools in this country don’t expect to see any AP courses at all.
Rather than focusing on the number of AP courses, I would instead concentrate on curriculum choices that make sense for your child and his/her ability to succeed.
Beyond the number of AP’s, what is it that makes a student an attractive prospect for college admission officers?
It’s important to note that a student doesn’t become a much more interesting or competitive candidate just because he/she has many AP courses. Engagement and interest in the material is equally as important, as are all of the other elements of the application, including involvement outside the classroom, test scores, teacher recommendations and essays. In my time as an admissions officer at Penn, I never counted up the number of AP courses a student had taken and brought that fact up in committee as a selling point. Instead I looked for evidence of an interested and interesting student in all of the elements noted above.