Are tough AP classes worth it for your teens?

The debate about whether to take AP classes in high school goes on in homes around the country. It goes on in mine EVERY time my kids have to do course selection.

Both of my teens take AP classes in high school. I encourage them to do it, mostly because I feel like they have to if they want to get into their college of choice. I never took a single AP class in high school. Often, I wonder how this whole craziness got started…how did we get to the point where our kids have so much academic pressure on them in high school?

Even more, do teens really need to take AP classes to get into a state college or just the Ivies? Is the pressure in high school really necessary?

An recent article in The Miami Herald caught my attention: Are tough Advanced Placement classes worth it for Florida high school students? The article takes a hard look at the AP madness. Here’s one conclusion I completely agree with: The college-level program used to be known as a VIP program for elite students. Now it’s more about open access. If you want to take an AP course, you can even find one online at a virtual high school.

While this AP pressure goes on in other states too, in Florida the state pays for kids to take the AP exam, teachers get a bonus if their students pass the exam, and  the number of students in AP courses — which cover more than 30 subjects — has nearly tripled over the past decade.

What’s the real point of AP classes? I’ve always thought it was to prepare our kids for college. To me, the most interesting discovery in the article was that even after taking AP classes, some students said the rigor of college was a shock. They felt they weren’t prepared.

Of course, a big upside of AP classes in high school is financial. If you take enough Advanced Placement classes, you can potentially graduate from college a semester or even a year early. For a student who isn’t receiving financial aid, it can save tens of thousands of dollars.

My kids are always talking about friends or teens they know who have gone overboard with taking six or seven AP classes at the same time to raise their GPA higher and stand out. To me, that’s insane!

The crazy part is with the AP madness, admission rates to the country’s premier liberal arts colleges have never been lower, according to an article in The Boston Globe.

Here’s are quotes from admissions officers from the Boston Globe article. ”

Six AP classes overall is ample to prepare a student well for college, says the College Board’s Trevor Packer. Packer, who bases that number on one researcher’s conclusion, says, “I don’t like it when I hear that a student is choosing a 10th AP course instead of doing an extracurricular activity.”

Lee Coffin, Tufts’ dean of undergraduate admissions, suggests using the selection of AP classes to create what he calls an “intellectual fingerprint.” Students who are passionate about history, for instance, can take AP history to explore the subject and have success in the course documented on their record.

“It’s things in moderation,” says Kevin Kelly, director of admissions at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. “My rule of thumb here is to get good grades in good courses.”

So parents, I guess it’s up to us to know whether AP classes are worth it for our kids and how many they can handle at one time.

What do you think about the AP madness? Do you encourage or discourage your kids to take AP classes?


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