Every teacher knows that the life of the modern high school student is hectic. Playing three sports, participating in clubs, and maintaining a social life often results in burnout. While these things aren’t bad individually—quite the opposite—they are collectively a recipe for disaster. Pair these extracurricular demands with challenging classes and the effect worsens. A cumulative study by the Harvard School of Public Health found that the primary stressor in this list was “intensive or higher level-classes.”
Advanced Placement courses, the pinnacle of challenging classes in secondary schools, justify the workload as preparation for college. However, colleges don’t usually shove all of world history or literature into one class. Doing so promotes neither mental health nor academic retention. Denise Pope, a senior lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, cited a common trend from twenty studies, showing that AP programs have varied results at best, often offering stressors without reward. She concludes that “it is a mistake to assume that all AP students’ high school experiences are enriched by the AP program.”
Additionally, there is no guarantee that the student’s college will accept the credits earned in AP programs. Of the top 153 universities and colleges in the United States, 86% of those restrict AP credit in some way. In the last three years, I’ve worked with several students who overburdened themselves in hopes of earning college credits only for their universities to reject them. Recently, one of my closest friends had both his math and English courses from high school rejected from a university in Florida despite his excellent performance.
Finally, AP classes emphasize a classical education in a time when there are major shortages in trade fields which have high starting pay opportunities—over $48,000 for an apprentice in most states. If the student begins taking and paying for AP classes early in high school, the pressure to stay the course and attend a four-year college may keep students from choosing a more successful, fulfilling career. This emphasis on AP’s also creates a false dichotomy in schools with the average students funneling into trade schools and the “smarter students” entering AP classes. You don’t have to take AP classes to be smart or achieve great things in life.
Of course, not all AP classes are a problem, nor should high schools eliminate them entirely. These courses provide a high standard environment that students desirous of science, education, and law fields may find useful. It also saves time and money if the university the student attends does take their class credits, eliminating thousands from tuition bills and allowing students to skip questionably useful general education courses.
With these considerations in mind, the high levels of stress, limited educational worth, low-acceptance rate from universities, and early career pressure undermines the current priority so many schools and parents place on AP classes. Having both benefited and struggled under the AP program myself, though, I spend a large part of my time not blanketly condemning or promoting AP classes but rather working with high school students to understand this program and its potential benefit to them individually—eager to see students succeed in whichever path they choose.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.