By Christine Arumainayagam ’16, Staff writer
These days, it isn’t unusual to find high school students falling apart from stress, complaining that they went to bed at 3 a.m., and inhaling giant cups of coffee to compensate for the lack of sleep. This collective rush to take the most overwhelming classes possible begins during sophomore spring when students receive the opportunity to sign up for AP classes.
The Advanced Placement curriculum is designed to be the equivalent of one year of a college course and to prepare students for the rigorous classes they will take once they graduate high school; however, more often than not, the focus becomes centered on cramming for the exam itself, rather than building an in-depth understanding of the material.
For this reason, several colleges don’t accept AP credit in certain subjects, even if students receive scores of 4 or 5. So it may end up just being a giant waste of students’ time, mental health, and money—a whopping $92 for each exam.
The College Board began the AP program in 1955, with the goal of helping “hundreds of thousands of high school students achieve their college dreams each year.” There are now almost 40 AP classes in total, ranging from AP Music Theory to AP Calculus BC, but most high schools don’t offer all of them. In fact, 40% of high schools don’t offer any AP classes whatsoever.
Some high schools, such as Lowell High School in San Francisco, are considering putting a cap on the number of AP classes a student can take, because administrators worry that students are overextending themselves. But limiting AP classes won’t solve the problem.
Colleges claim that students won’t be penalized for not taking advanced classes if they aren’t available in the school they attend, but so many people decide to self-study AP’s that students worry that this will become the new expectation. As a result they pile more on their plates than they can handle, evidenced by the fact that 50% of students fail their AP exams.
Just as a bachelor’s degree has become the new equivalent of a high school diploma, AP classes seem to be diminishing rapidly in their impressiveness.The number of students taking AP exams has doubled in the past decade alone. Clearly, the pressure to take the most advanced classes possible has started to spiral out of control.
So, the question remains: are AP classes worth all the tears? Ultimately, if the goal is to beef up your college application, then AP may be the way to go. But if the goal is to learn as much as possible in a subject you love, enjoy yourself, and still challenge yourself in the process, then my recommendation would be to stick to honors classes.