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AP Classes and School Performance

To AP or Not to AP?

High school students are under more pressure than ever to compete for spots at top universities or to increase chances for merit-based financial aid. One way they may try to demonstrate their academic ability is by taking Advanced Placement (AP) classes in an effort to boost their GPA and even get college credit while still in high school. As advanced students get closer to graduation, they have the opportunity to take multiple AP classes per school year in core subjects and electives. You may be wondering if all the work and stress that goes along with these classes will help your student. You are right to question it because some students may find the APs can have a greater impact on their school performance than they want.

What are AP Classes?

Most people are familiar with advanced or honor level classes, which challenge students who are able to grasp concepts quickly and work independently. A step above honors level is the AP class, which is designed to mimic or equal the pace, difficulty, and rigor of a college course. Near the end of the school year, students take the AP exam, composed of both multiple choice and essay questions. The exams are scored on a five to one scale, with a five being the maximum value. High scores can potentially be accepted by colleges and universities for college credit or to opt out of some freshman level classes. They may also afford students consideration for additional financial aid, including scholarships. The College Board, which administers the SAT and ACT standardized tests, is responsible for administering AP exams, although they do not create the curriculum. That responsibility falls to administrators and teachers at public and private schools throughout the country.

Sounds Great!

AP classes can be a godsend to those students with outstanding school performance who are ready for the challenge of a college level class. Some schools will give more weight to these top courses, which can increase the GPA of students in addition to possibly receiving college credit if they earn a qualifying score on the AP exam. These classes can give advanced teens an edge in the competition for college admission, as many schools do consider how many AP classes an applicant takes as well as how they perform. If credit is awarded, some students may be able to complete their undergraduate degree in less than four years, which can be a huge relief to families who are burdened by the skyrocketing costs of attending college.

What’s the Catch?

While the exams themselves are standardized and given on a national level, the same cannot be said for how the classes are taught.  That lack of continuity across the country means that some classes may not meet the standards of a college level course. The drive to take as many AP classes as possible can backfire for some students who become overwhelmed by the course demands. If the end result is a lower grade, a student’s GPA may be adversely affected.

Yay or Nay?

Ultimately, each family and student should decide if AP classes are the right choice. Other things to consider before taking one or more courses are:

  • Is this a necessary core subject or one of interest?
  • Will this course work be so heavy that it takes time away from other subjects or extracurricular activities?
  • Is the student only taking the class to increase his or her GPA?
  • Will the student’s schedule accommodate the AP class (es)?
  • How has this child’s past performance been in these subjects?
  • What if the colleges your student wants to attend does not offer credit for AP classes?

Any More Advice?

Know your limits! Students have more stress and less time than ever before. If they aren’t highly motivated or successful in a subject, they may not give their best effort.  Another thing to think about is the downside of an override if a child is not placed in AP level classes. If a teacher in Greenville County recommends one level but a parent supersedes that recommendation, there is no remedy or option to drop down to a lower level if a student cannot keep up with the work load. Colleges would rather see students who progress in an area of interest or a particular field rather than trying to do everything at the highest level. In the end, one more AP class will not make or break a student’s academic opportunities, so it may not be worth the extra work or stress.

Carolina Academy for Educational Excellence

Ellen Goldman