In planning for her junior year, my friend’s daughter Grace intends to take as many Advanced Placement (AP) classes as possible. Created by the College Board in 1955, AP courses are rigorous, college-level classes offered in many high schools.
Grace’s parents have heard that taking these courses might help with college admission. If they pay for Grace to take the corresponding yearly exam for each AP class, most four-year college and universities will give her college credits and/or placement in more advanced classes. But should they sign off on Grace’s plan to take five AP courses during her junior year?
While it is true that taking AP courses can provide an advantage when it comes to college preparation and admission, Grace’s proposed schedule might be too ambitious, says Emily Levitt, Vice President of Education at Sylvan Learning.
What Determines the Right Number of AP Classes?
“Students should want to challenge themselves, but they also need to think about balance. The admissions process takes many factors into consideration and AP classes are just one part of that puzzle,” says Levitt. She notes that College Board President David Coleman has warned against piling on too many AP classes for the sole purpose of entering college.
“We have data that taking up to five AP courses over the course of high school helps students complete college on time. But there is no evidence that excessively cramming your schedule with AP classes advances you,” said Coleman in a recent presentation.”“Let us say to students, ‘If you would like to take more than five AP courses because you love the class, do so, but not to get into college.'”
Levitt seconds this idea, encouraging students to take an AP class because they are truly interested in the content of the course, not just to enhance their transcript.
“You want your child to be in a situation where they feel comfortable and confident while also feeling challenged,” says Levitt. “Students need to be challenged enough to learn, but not so challenged that they’re overwhelmed. If the AP class is above their level of ability or they aren’t passionate about the subject matter, the class might not be a good fit.”
What Do Colleges Expect?
Levitt adds that colleges are looking for students who maintain a steady GPA while taking the best advantage of the courses available to them, whether those are AP or honors level courses.
For some students, taking five AP classes in one year would mean they couldn’t participate in extracurricular activities, which can range from sports and volunteer work to playing the guitar or writing short stories. Colleges are also looking for these types of activities when reviewing applications. Teens need space and time to follow new interests as they arise, as opposed to focusing solely on college admission.
“We want kids to develop a love of learning both inside and outside of the classroom,” says Levitt. I encourage parents to ask their child, ‘What do you want to get out of your high school experience beyond getting into college?'” She encourages parents to be a source of strength and stability.
“I’d encourage Grace’s parents to let her know that college admittance isn’t about the number of AP classes on their transcript. It’s about finding a college that’s a good fit for them,” says Levitt. With a balanced class load, Grace can explore her passions, better positioning her to find a college that is the just-right fit.
Nancy Schatz Alton is a Seattle-based author, teacher, poet and frequent contributor to Your Teen Magazine at www.YourTeenMag.com.