To AP or not to AP: That is the question

I stare at the eight slots on the paper in front of me- eight slots to be filled with classes for next year. This should be easy, right? After all, there is a mile-long list of possible courses. And yet, the knot in my stomach tightens as I start to fill my schedule and imagine my future is hinging on a “perfect selection.”

According to the Student Handbook, an ‘A’ in an Advanced Placement (AP)/College-Level Course is averaged in as a 5.0 to a student’s GPA, whereas this same grade in an honors or regular class receives a 4.0. This is very appealing to the many students who are hoping to impress colleges with their GPA. In fact, the highest GPA of last year’s graduating class was a 4.383, according to Guidance Counselor Debra Harry.

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Every second semester, students are given a form which prompts them to request the courses they would like to take the next school year. With the aforementioned immediate GPA benefit of taking an AP class, many start to feel the pressure of taking high-level courses, and so, the stress begins.

History teacher William Mathes, who has taught honors, regular and AP classes, identifies many long-term benefits of taking an AP class.

“I think that it shows you the immediate rigor of a college level course. Between the workload, the pace, the assessment practices and the teaching styles, students will be exposed to college-level curriculum. Earning college credits now can save you money on tuition during your college years because you reduce the number of classes you need for graduation,” Mathes said.

Although the benefits of taking these classes are priceless, they do not come without the stress of a college-course simulation. Honors classes challenge students more than a regular class would, but they are still distinctly different than the rigors of AP courses.

“The difference (between the course levels) is how quickly and in depth you move into a topic. Honors moves moderately fast, and regular seems really slow when you compare it with everything else and AP sciences move very quickly,” sophomore Sidney Gossard said. Gossard is enrolled in two APs, two honors and one regular class, as well being a member of the volleyball team.

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The whole year in AP classes is spent rapidly preparing for the end-of-course AP exam, administered by the College Board, in which students can receive a maximum score of five. To keep up with the fast pace of AP classes, background knowledge for many AP courses is almost a necessity for a student’s success in the class.

“Speaking for AP Physics, the big difference is that we operate under the assumption that algebra and trigonometry skills have been mastered. We spend less time with basic-level content and more time with higher-level thinking. Students who do struggle in math are still welcome and included; they just need to put in some time outside of class to refresh those skills,” AP and Regular Physics teacher Bethany Janusz said.

Taking an honors class before taking an AP class can provide the necessary base students need. For example, many people take Honors Biology before AP Biology, or Honors World History before AP US History.

“I think honors classes do prepare you for AP classes because last year in Honors World History we practiced essays all year, and now in AP that's what we’ve been (expected) to know already,” Gossard said.

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Students should also keep in mind that what courses they take tell colleges a lot about their interests.

“I would think colleges value diversity in the courses you take. They definitely value students who challenge themselves,” Mathes said.

At the end of the day, it is up to the individual students how much work they want to put in and what courses are best for them.

“I've seen students taking all AP classes, acting a cool as a cucumber, and some kids who are completely overwhelmed by two or three. I think kids, their teachers and their parents should have honest conversations about this and avoid putting students in a position of misery,” Janusz said.

Teachers and guidance counselors are always open to talk to students about their futures, and help them map out a plan that’s best for them.

“You know yourself better than anyone else. Like I said before, you can always drop a course, so why not at least give it a try,” Mathes said.


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