The New York Times Motherlode blog asks the question, “To A.P. or Not to A.P”?
Students, parents, and school administrators have mixed feelings about A.P. classes. Students sometimes feel pressured to take these advanced courses even when it’s not appropriate, but in many cases taking at least a few A.P. courses is the right decision.
When taught well, A.P. and I.B. courses can offer high school students the opportunity to study college-level material while in high school. Administrators and teachers may be divided on the merits of offering A.P. courses, but they agree that secondary schools feel pressure to offer them to appear academically rigorous.
A.P. courses usually look good on college applications. Selective colleges want to know if students have taken the “the most rigorous academic program available”, so the natural inclination is to take as many A.P. classes as possible. While some experts advise students that more is not necessarily better, it’s hard to believe that in a competitive situation more high A.P. scores will not add points on a college application.
… “Selective colleges make it clear these days that they will not consider candidates that have not done AP or IB.”…
Students and parents often blame the Ivy League and other selective colleges for perpetuating the current cutthroat environment, insofar as such schools advise taking “the most rigorous academic program available” (as stated on the University of Virginia’s admissions website).
“What parents are saying is that ‘until colleges change their message, I’m not going to let my kid be the sacrificial lamb,’ ” Pope observes.
But colleges say it’s the literal interpretation of this advice that gets students into trouble.
“What admission officers almost always say…is focus on what lights your fire and take advantage of the most challenging offerings in those areas,” urges NACAC’s Hawkins. “That’s a very different message from, ‘Take all of the AP classes.’ ”…
Why take A.P. courses?
A.P. courses can be the appropriately challenging level of study for advanced students, and a way to avoid being bored in classes that are too easy.
Students can earn college credit for A.P. courses when test scores are above a certain level. This can save money and time, even enable graduation in less than four years.
In some cases colleges do not give credit, but use A.P. test scores to allow a student to skip over introductory classes. This can be a benefit, but in some cases students should still take the lower-level college class. For example, a STEM major may wish to take the college calculus course as a way to establish a stronger foundation for advanced course work.
Why avoid A.P. courses?
For some students, A.P. classes add excessive stress, either because of the extra work involved or because the student is not prepared to perform at the higher level. In these cases, the lower-level course is the more appropriate placement.
There are borderline cases, where the question is whether it’s better to get an A in a regular college prep course or a lower grade in an A.P. course.
The answer that most colleges will give you is that, it’s better to get an A in the Honors/AP class. Well, of course. And most highly selective colleges will expect that you do. But in reality, most colleges would rather see a B in an Honors or AP course. They want to see that you are truly challenging yourself, but that you are still mastering the material….
The decision to take or skip A.P. courses is not always easy. Consider it carefully.
ADDED: Gas station without pumps blog gives commentary and advice on How many AP courses are too many?
Probably the most reasonable course is for students to take AP courses (and exams!) in those subjects that most interest them and pursue interests outside the AP classroom. Community college courses that go beyond the AP courses are also a cost-effective choice, if you can get in.