Decrease stress: Let’s implement cap on AP courses

Nicole Stock

With AP tests upon us, many of us feel the weight of the exams on our shoulders. High test scores may allow some of us to place out of core classes in college, but for those of us taking upward of three AP courses, we’re looking at twelve hours of testing minimum. This kind of stress begs the question: Is there such a thing as too many AP classes?

AP courses are designed to emulate college courses and allow students to take a deeper look into one area of study. In college, however, most students do not take more than four classes per semester or quarter, which makes this workload manageable. High school students, on the other hand, may take as many AP courses as they’d like, which leaves some students taking four or five AP classes at a time, in addition to one or two other classes.

Although high school students are advised not to take more than a few AP courses per year, students interested in applying to more selective colleges are constantly reminded of the importance of a “rigorous” schedule, and many typically end up overloading their schedule with APs.

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While some gifted students may want to challenge themselves by taking as many AP courses as possible, these courses are meant to further a student’s knowledge in a specific area–– not to make up the majority of a student’s schedule. Taking several of these classes detracts from a student’s ability to truly narrow their focus on a certain area, and instead adds to a student’s stress and hinders their ability to excel in all of their classes simultaneously.

There should be a cap on the number of AP courses students are allowed to take in order to decrease stress levels  and eliminate the pressure of an unrealistic workload. If there were a national standard, then it wouldn’t put any student at a disadvantage because everyone would be on an equal playing field and students would no longer feel pressured to take a large number of APs to impress colleges.

Or, more realistically, we could implement a cap here at Redwood.  Because colleges judge the rigor of students’ schedules in the context of their own high schools, Redwood students would be evaluated with the cap in mind, so a student would not be penalized for taking fewer AP courses than applicants from other high schools.

The cap on AP courses should be set to three AP classes per year, as most college students take an average of three or four classes per year, according to the National Center on Education Statistics.

Additionally, an AP limit would benefit students when they apply to college because it would challenge colleges to differentiate students based on more than the number of rigorous courses they’ve taken. While colleges usually look at grades, test scores, course rigor, and essays as the primary factors in a college application, imposing some sort of standard limit to AP classes would force colleges to more thoroughly evaluate applications by considering other factors more heavily, such as the activities in which a student participates outside of school. While the number of AP courses may be an indicator of a person’s initiative, they should not be the sole determinant of an applicant’s entrance into college, and shouldn’t be weighted as heavily in the decision.

Teachers and administrators often tell us to take measures to reduce our stress, instead of preventing the stress in the first place. Rather than expecting high school students to choose between what may set them apart for their future or what is objectively better for their health right now, schools should take action. A national standard limit on AP classes––or at least a cap at Redwood––would allow students to push themselves and obtain college credit with less stress in their lives.