To AP or Not, That is the Question
By Anushka Rajmohan
With course selections already well underway, in the next couple of weeks, students will be deciding what classes best suit their own individual interests and strengths. Considering the variety of courses Council Rock North offers for its students, this process may be difficult, especially when students are faced with the decision of pursuing Advanced Placement, or AP, classes.
The Advancement Placement program is sponsored by the College Board organization throughout the United States and Canada. As the name suggests, AP classes are more advanced than the honors classes offered at school. These AP courses offer students the rigor of a college-level course for students who want a more challenging course than an honors level course. In addition, AP classes offer the opportunity to earn college credits to transfer to college. These credits can be obtained by taking a test offered by the College Board annually in May.
As would be expected, the workload in an AP level course is far more than that of other courses offered in high school. Kajal Sitapara, a student at Council Rock North who takes AP World History, comments that the “[AP Class] is much more project-based. There’s not homework every day, but there is a lot. It is manageable if you don’t procrastinate too much.”
Sitapara stresses the need to be much more independent in AP courses than in other courses. Also, she believes the heavy workload is doable if one has good time management skills.
Miss Mallon, the AP World History teacher at Council Rock North, also adds to this, mentioning that “AP classes differ mostly in pacing and expectations of independence of the student.”
She further emphasizes the importance of being “independent learners” and “good time managers.” This advice stems from the fact that with the rigor that comes with AP classes, teachers are not able to teach in the classroom everything the AP student would need to know.
Rather, AP students must study some content on their own in order to be the most successful in their AP courses. Therefore, students will have more work since they must learn new content and process it while processing what they have already learned in class.
Why even pursue these challenging classes? Many students taking the AP classes, or thinking about taking these difficult courses, have mostly one thing in mind: colleges. Colleges, selective colleges especially, are more inclined to choose students who showcase their academic strengths by having a schedule with laborious classes. As an article about higher-level classes from the Chicago Tribune states, “having either AP or IB classes on a high school transcript can set some applicants apart from others…[it] allow[s] a student to have a more heavily weighted GPA, which can help with class rank as well as college admissions.” Students’ chances of being admitted into a more selective school increase when they can convey their skills through their success in harder level classes, such as AP classes.
Other students are more drawn to another benefit of AP classes: these classes offer students the chance to earn college credits when they perform well on the AP exam. These college credits can then be transferred to the college the student will be attending, depending on the college. Some colleges recognize these credits by directly transferring the credits earned, based on the score that they received on the AP exam, and substitute these credits for a required class.
For example, scoring well on the AP Biology exam may allow a student to skip the Introductory Biology course in college. Earning these college credits in high school ultimately saves money in college since students would not need to actually take a class and pay for this class in college. Also, with these already earned credits, students are able to graduate early in college because they have already earned a portion of the required credits for their degree.
On the other hand, other colleges place students into an intermediary or advanced level of a course based on their AP scores. For example, instead of being placed into an Introductory Biology course, a college would place a student into the intermediary Biology or advanced Biology course from the start. This way, students can skip these introductory classes, but not earn college credits that count toward their graduation requirements.
These potential benefits convince most students to pursue AP classes, but Miss Mallon also adds the skills that can be gained by taking any rigorous course in high school:
“I believe taking any rigorous class that holds high academic standards and encourages independent thought prepares you to be a successful college student. AP classes generally do that since the exam gives us a common goal and a strict deadline.”
She believes that the skills learned from taking any rigorous course, such as an AP course, will be beneficial in college. These courses help to develop very valuable skills in students, which she believes will be beneficial in college and life.
Although AP courses have a lot to offer, they might not be the right path for everyone. With the immense workload of an AP class and the independence required to be successful in the course, it is difficult, to say the least, for many students to maintain these challenging classes in their schedule. This might even prey on a student’s mental health if a particular AP course is not suited for the student or their busy schedule.
Miss Mallon agrees with this: “If taking AP classes erodes one’s well-being, then I don’t think they should. If a student is up for a challenge and can maintain a balanced schedule, then taking an AP class can be a very enriching and rewarding experience.”
When a class starts to become detrimental to a student’s health, this starts to outweigh the valuable skills that can be learned from the class. Therefore, deciding if an AP class is the right fit for a person should be a well-thought decision with consideration of the student’s schedule, and strengths and weaknesses.
Especially in this competitive world we live in today, there is immense pressure from colleges, parents, teachers, and sometimes even other students for students to push themselves and pursue the hardest courses. These difficult courses, such as the AP course, can be rewarding later in life. However, it is important to reach an informed decision that is appropriate for the student and his or her schedule, or the course will become more detrimental than helpful for the student.