A student studies for the SAT. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images)
Diamond Bar High School

Opinion: Scaling back of AP Scholar awards liberates students

Many highly competitive students at Diamond Bar High School engage in the excessive pursuit of AP classes, translating into a rat race inconsistent with the changing dynamics of college admissions. In an unprecedented move, College Board, the organization that develops and administers the SAT and AP exams, will begin to discontinue selected AP Scholar Awards starting May. The changes underway will help students by encouraging them to engage in more meaningful extracurriculars. 

The first wave of changes includes the termination of State AP Scholar, DoDEA AP Scholar, and International AP Scholar awards. By 2021, all National AP Scholar awards will be discontinued with the exception of the AP Scholar, AP Scholar with Honor, and AP Scholar with Distinction. 

Top national colleges such as the University of Chicago and New York University have begun implementing “test-optional” admission programs that do not require standardized testing such as the SAT and ACT, or AP exams. Increasingly, other selective educational institutions, such as Wake Forest University and Pitzer College, have followed suit.  

Educators do not see true merit in students spending the bulk of their valuable time inside the classroom in a fruitless attempt to seize competitive advantage through the pursuit of earning a copious number of AP credits.

A joint study conducted by College Board and Princeton University researchers, with a sample size of 400,000 entrants to around 100 colleges, revealed that the greatest gains “are associated with students increasing their AP participation from zero to one AP exam and from one to two AP exams.” 

Lessons learned inside the classroom aren’t more valuable than lifelong skills acquired through extracurricular engagements. 

The most successful students possess a natural savviness to apply what they have learned inside a classroom to more meaningful, real-life endeavors. For instance, a varsity tennis player can tactfully apply the knowledge attained in STEM classes to improve the finesse and technique of his swing. Similarly, an art student can utilize skills attained inside a studio to teach painting to mentally disadvantaged adults at a community center. 

In truth, students should employ skills they have acquired in the course of their education to pursue their passions to the fullest potential.

High school students can also relieve stress by participating in activities they genuinely enjoy. Many enslave themselves to AP-laden schedules, falsely convinced that they are on the winning path to success. 

When confronted by a heavy load of academic responsibilities and extracurricular engagements, they are inevitably forced to sleep later and work harder — eventually burning out. Others as young as middle school are pressured into enrolling in AP classes by their parents in fear that they will fall behind their counterparts.

Emboldened by the AP Scholar Awards, cram schools have been aggressively marketing AP after-school classes to befuddled parents who just want the best for their children. 

Local tutors Cambridge Institute, C2 Education, and Sylvan Learning, among others, offer AP test prep to students as young as middle school. Such classes command a hefty price, commencing from $3,500 per AP class, putting a damper on the wallet.

By discontinuing many of the most rigorous AP Scholar Awards, College Board is liberating high school students from the false pretense that more AP credits translate to greater success. During such a tumultuous, unpredictable period of college admissions, College Board has made a bold, yet financially strategic decision in which students, like myself, candidly welcome the opportunity to pursue our own passions without compromise.