The Buckley School

A new approach to AP courses

Until I sat down to write this opinion, even the possibility that a school would deprive its students of AP classes seemed nothing short of blasphemy– blasphemy against the religion of college applications, against the church of Ivy League acceptance that so many of us so piously devote ourselves to.

Respected high schools, like Phillips Exeter Academy and Berkeley Carroll, are dropping AP courses, begging the question: What elite university is going to accept a kid without a single AP class? Contrary to popular belief, many private schools following the trend would argue that Advanced Placement courses are doing the kids a disservice rather than elevating their academics.

Exeter and Berkeley Carroll claim that APs don’t allow for in-depth study because of the sheer amount of information the class must cover in a year.

“It was a race for breadth against depth,” Head of School at Berkeley Carroll Robert Vitalo said.

Headmaster Roger Weaver of Crossroads School, one of the trailblazers of AP rejection, articulated another argument for ditching APs in a letter to parents where he wrote, “Crossroads and its faculty prefer courses that prepare students to be reflective, analytical and ongoing learners. Classes geared to a specific, externally designed test do not best achieve this objective.”

As a proud survivor of multiple AP courses, I can attest to it being an year-long sprint with the AP test at the finish line, rather than a greater understanding of the material.

Aren’t all classes like that, though? Whether it be a final exam or an AP test, all classes must cover a certain amount of information, and most students must regurgitate that information at the end of the year in some manner to physically prove that they’ve gained something from the course.

Additionally, Advanced Placement courses emulate college curricula and rigor to demonstrate a student’s success in such a class to a university. They standardize courses and student evaluation, so B-level comprehension of material in one school cannot be A-worthy in another. A 3 is a 3 is a 3 for every student in every school everywhere in the United States.

The unfortunate truth, however, is that the abstract arguments made by high schools for and against Advanced Placement courses mean nothing unless colleges are on board. A college preparatory school can criticize APs as fervently as they please, but if a university is going to accept a student with five AP courses over a student with none, it is the high school’s duty to provide a student with all the tools to out-compete other students for spots in top colleges.

At this time, it isn’t possible to say whether a school not allowing APs will impact college acceptance, because it depends on a hierarchy of factors, one being the reputation of the school. One can say Exeter, one of the most prestigious private schools in America according to Niche, has the luxury to rid itself of AP classes, because colleges will be less likely to question the integrity of the classes. However, students of other schools without such luxury, must continually find ways to prove the validity of their grades through SAT subject tests and other standardized exams.

It is possible, though, to say that colleges loathe to see students racking up weighted classes at the expense of pursuing subjects they’re passionate about, according to Matt McGann, Director of Admissions at MIT and Dean of Admissions at Harvard University Bill Fitzsimmons.

“Too many times I’ve had students tell me about the pressure to add another AP course– sometimes a fifth, sixth, or seventh AP course for the year (!) — and, consequently, drop something they really enjoy,” McGann writes.

Schools should continue to offer APs but with a three-four course limit with no exceptions. Just as Exeter attaches to every transcript that APs are not offered, schools should do the same explain to colleges why their students never take more than four AP classes.

Competitive, motivated students will go to the extreme to give themselves the edge when applying to college, but universities want to see students challenging themselves while maintaining a love of learning—not an AP machine.

It is a school’s responsibility to limit the number of AP courses a student is allowed to take, not only for college admission but to ensure students continue to pursue subjects they enjoy, not ones that will boost their GPAs.

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