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AP: Advanced Placement or Absolute Pain? Essay

“Are you ready for a unique learning experience that will help you succeed in college? Through AP’s college-level course and exams, you can earn college credit and advanced placement, stand out in the admission process, and learn from some of the most skilled, dedicated, and inspiring teachers in the world.” This excerpt comes from the main web page about AP course on College Board’s official website. In 1900, the College Board was created to expand the availability to getting a higher education. Formed by a handful of colleges, their purpose was to simplify the application process for students and college admission offices.

More than a century after evaluating those first test-takers, their job has been helping more than seven million students prepare for a successful transition into college each year, and continue to serve the education community through research on behalf of students, schools and teachers. Over the last several years it has become crucial for high school students to take AP or Advanced Placement courses in order to get into a good college, or at least that is what they tell teenagers. As a former high school student, I was constantly told by the college admissions committees how it would make a difference to see that I took AP courses on my college application and got good scores on the AP test, but was it really worth the time and effort that I put into those classes? Because of the stress over the work and the obsession getting accepted into a good, AP classes are doing more harm than good.

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Advanced Placement is a program created by the College Board in which high schools offer college-level courses and exams to students. The AP curriculum consists of various subjects that are created for the College Board by a panel of experts and college-level professors. The class credits are supposedly transferable to college, thus putting students ahead of the game. For a high school course to have the AP recognition the course must be reviewed by the College Board to establish it as a class and it satisfies the AP curriculum. If the course is approved, the school may use the AP title and the course will be publicly listed on the AP course list.

After World War II, the Ford Foundation created a trust that supported committees who were studying education. The program was founded at Kenyon College in Gambier Ohio, by the college president Gordon Chalmers. The first study was tested by three prep schools: Lawrenceville School, Phillips Academy and Phillips Exeter Academy along with three universities: Harvard, Princeton, and Yale. In 1952, they created the report which was titled the General Education in School and College: A Committee Report.

It was designed to allow high school seniors to study different types of college level material and to take an achievement exam that will allow them to receive college credit for the work. The second committee, the Committee on Admission with Advanced Standing, was the committee who got to plan the curriculum. The pilot program began running in 1952.The College Board, a non-profit organization, has run the AP program since 1955.The courses for AP vary from physics, to chemistry, to biology, all the way to history, geography, and english. It also supports teachers of AP courses, and supports universities. Because of these activities, the program and anyone involved are funded through fees charged to students taking AP Exams.

Of course the AP course sound like a good idea when one is told about them. There are benefits to taking these college level courses, because at almost every college in the country, your academic record is the most important part of your college application. A guidance counselor recommended to sophomore Cavan Krekelberg that he should sign up for AP classes in high school. Krekelberg says the chance to earn college credit was but one of the reasons he took the AP classes. He also liked the idea that the AP coursework was more challenging. On his AP exams, he received a score of 4 in both psychology and biology, which Luther College accepted for credit. His score of 3 on the English literature exam, however, didn’t meet Luther’s requirements for credit. “If you’re toying with the notion of going for an AP class, I say do it,” says Krekelberg.

“It can’t really hurt you, as long as you’re willing to do the work. Getting college credit from high school classes is invaluable, too.” AP classes also help a student get used to the type of thinking and workload they will experience in their first year of college. A student can also be saving money for college by taking an AP course. If a student takes enough AP classes and gets a good score on the AP exam, it is possible to graduate from college a semester or even a year early. Also by gaining more college credits you could take more elective classes in college and it is easier to minor and major in something. AP course can also be beneficial to those kids who liked to be challenged by harder classes and they won’t be as bored and they would be in their normal classes.

The fact of the matter is, honors students are no longer a select few of student. Over half of college-bound students take AP classes, and of them most take at least two. The AP system has pushed into our brains that our college success is decided on by taking as many advanced courses as possible. “On average, I spend three to four hours each day on homework,” says a senior, who took five AP classes. “With the number I’m taking, I really doubt that I will be confident going into each test.” With the pressure to enroll in AP courses, not only for college credit but also for the GPA, it is no wonder that students find their grades suffering and their stress levels going through the roof. AP courses have just become something to show off, something adding a little more to a competitive college application. One of the major flaws with the AP system is that every class is only taught to do well on the AP exam each student takes at the end of the course. The result is that actually understanding the topic is taken away for the sake of test preparation, with teachers spending their time only on topics that will appear on the AP exam.

“It feels like sometimes we rush through material or ignore parts of the subject,” said one senior. “It would be nice to sit back and learn for the sake of learning, not just to get a five on the test in May.” At the same time, there are a handful of AP courses that don’t even save incoming college freshmen time or money. Some colleges now only allow a certain number of AP credits they will accept for placing out of classes, and some no longer accept any credits. Haley Moulton, a 19-year-old from Marblehead, discussed the stress of testing at the private Winsor School she attended in Boston. She took four AP classes and six AP tests during high school. In the spring of her junior year, she took three AP exams, the ACT, the regular SAT, and three SAT subject tests. “I felt like I was constantly thinking about testing,” Moulton says.

“It was just not the happiest time.” After she was accepted to Dartmouth College, the school told her the 4 she got on her Spanish AP will allow her to test out of the foreign language requirement, but the two 5’s on her English tests and the 4 on AP chemistry did not earn her any credit whatsoever. Being a high school student is very different than being a college student. When taking college classes, a student has more time to focus on each course, because they have more time to, and are not taking 8 other classes every day from 8am to 3pm 5 days a week. As a student who took two AP classes during high school I felt it was a struggle to keep up with my other classes because I was too focused on my AP courses.

There were endless amounts of reading every night along with being tested twice a week. I didn’t have it as bad as some of my other friends who had taken every AP course available. They really struggled with time management with their workload and what they needed to do afterschool. People tend to forget that colleges don’t only look at how well you do in school, but they look at how they spend their time outside of school. It was very popular in my school to be part of extracurricular activities such as community service, student council, yearbook, debate team, drama club, and of course all of our sports teams. Because my friends spent so much time and effort of the AP courses, they had to miss out on these activities sometimes.

Some schools have disagreed with these AP courses that they have actually banned them from their curriculum. One of the US’s leading private schools, the University of Chicago Laboratory School has decided to not let AP courses be offered. The school believes its students might benefit more from a different kind of curriculum; one that teachers have said will put less emphasis on memorization and test preparation. But college admission officers consider the AP program to be one of the best indicators of whether a student is ready for college-level coursework. “The burden of proof is on the school to prove to the university that there is incredible rigor in their courses,” says Trevor Packer, the vice president of AP exams. But College Board acknowledges that some schools have dropped some of their AP offerings. Bruce Hammond, who runs ExcellenceWithoutAP.org, says about 60 schools, most of them small and privately run, has partially or entirely dropped the AP curriculum. At the Lab Schools\, the debate intensified last spring when Tom Stanley-Becker, a junior taking AP U.S. history, stated himself an “AP Dropout” in a Los Angeles Times column.

Stanley-Becker backed out to pursue independent research while classmates crammed for the exam. “The problem with the AP program is that we don’t have time to really learn U.S. history because we’re preparing for the exam,” he wrote. Stanley-Becker’s column had incredible and passionate responses, including one from a high school student in California: “For students in a socioeconomically depressed school like mine, AP classes are the leg up we need to get into places like UCLA, UC-Berkeley, Stanford, and Harvard.” Stanley-Becker, the AP dropout, says he’s not out to make converts. “I know that for some public schools, the AP program is a good thing, that it creates a level playing field for them to compete,” he says. “I just think that the best teachers should be given the freedom to teach their own courses, especially at a school like mine.” Ted O’Neill, dean of undergraduate admissions at the University of Chicago, says his office does not punish students from schools that offer few or no AP courses. “Success in the exam doesn’t mean success as a thinker or success as a future student,” he says.

Debra Shaver, director of admission at Smith College, understands the annoyance that some AP teachers have, but she says that “you may be doing students a disservice by dropping the AP program, if you are not a Scarsdale or Exeter,”. Erin Duffy, who oversees the high school at the Seacrest Country Day School in Naples, Fla., knows the hardship of convincing colleges of the rigorous curriculum their school has to offer without many AP’s. Her school teaches very few AP courses and only in science and mathematics but none in history or literature. “You see them in the halls, in a daze, stumbling toward their classes. Their faces are ashen with fatigue; their spines are bent under the weight of a dozen textbooks. They are the ones struggling valiantly to stifle a yawn during class, the ones frantically rereading their notes before an exam on the nature of light photons during photosynthesis. They are the few, the chosen. They are the AP students.” (Huffington Post).

The way the system is now is without a question harming today’s high school students. AP courses have made applying to college much more competitive since every other student has the same goal in mind. The AP courses have also become hard on a student’s mental health. A major problem with the AP courses is that because so much time is spent studying and cramming for these exams that it’s making high school students much more stressed than they should be at that age. It gets harder to do when these students become tired all the time because they stay up late studying and working so hard for these courses along with whatever else they have to do. For those who wish go deeper into a particular subject, a college-level class may be a great idea. But the current AP course system is flawed and too test-intensive to provide students with a good learning environment. Maybe more high schools should think about offering students the chance to take actual college courses through a local college.

“Advanced Placement.’ Wikipedia. 10 Sept. 2012. Web. 10 Oct. 2012.
“Learn About Advanced Placement Program AP Exams and Courses.” College Board. Web. 10 Oct. 2012.

Perle, Elizabeth. “AP Classes: Are They Worth It?” The Huffington Post. 28 Oct. 2011. Web. 10 Oct. 2012.

Ramírez, Eddy. “Some High Schools Are Dropping Out of the Advanced Placement Program.” U.S.News & World Report, 19 Sept. 2008. Web. 10 Oct. 2012.

Wertheimer, Linda K. “AP classes: A Problem for Massachusetts High Schoolers?” Boston, 7 Oct. 2012. Web. 10 Oct.2012.

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