Are APs Hurting Our School’s Culture?

Katherine Hearden, Senior Editor

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I had an epiphany the other day while facetiming my cousin Caroline. After our usual catch up, our course load for the school year came up. She asked me how many APs I am signed up for this year. I told her four. She almost dropped her phone in surprise. I explained to her that most BA students take at least two APs as a senior, with some students taking up to five or six APs. Dumbfounded, Caroline told me that at her school, some students take one to three aps, and many students take no APs at all. This information suprised me, considering Caroline lives in the New England area. Her high school is among the prestigious East Coast schools listed in US News, such as Philips Exeter and Boston Latin School. Are BA students taking way too many APs?

Last year, over 2 million students took AP exams. The supposed incentive behind signing up for these AP courses is to receive college credit based on the student’s score on the exam. However, in reality, the actual incentive in taking AP classes, particularly among BA students, is to secure acceptance into selective colleges and universities. In almost any college admissions presentation, admissions officers urge students to participate in the most rigorous academic course load offered. For many students, APs are the most challenging courses available, prompting students to load up on AP classes, particularly during junior and senior year.

Students’ overload of AP courses has sparked a widespread debate among educators about the physical and emotional toll of the college application process. According to a study done by Stanford University, students sleep an average of 6.9 hours a night by the time they reach senior year, a decrease from the 8.4 hours students got in sixth grade. This lack of sleep leaves teens more likely to suffer from depression and entertain thoughts of suicide. Colleges try to clarify that engaging in academics does not necessarily mean taking the maximum number of AP courses, as Yale admissions states they do not “focus on whether you have taken a specific course,”  just that you maintain a “balanced” yet “challenging” course load. However, the pressure to create a perfect application still exists, and students continue to lose sleep in order to keep up with academics. 

Beyond the physical toll that APs have on our students, our school’s “more is more” attitude toward APs creates a stratified student body; one in which the number of APs you take determines your intelligence and social life. This culture divides our student body, separating social groups based on the assumption that the amount of APs you are enrolled in defines your personality and who you surround yourself with. When we ask each other, “what classes are you taking this year?”, let’s ask because we are genuinely interested, not because we want to gage where a person falls in an academic or social hierarchy. Let’s stop letting AP courses define our intelligence.

After my conversation with Caroline, she felt pressured to sign up for another AP. I reminded her that APs are not worth the headache, and that sometimes, less is actually more.




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