Padding Transcript with APs is Counterproductive

Ellie Dessart, Editor

As we transition into the third quarter, most students are starting to plan their course loads for next year. In selecting their classes, they often question the degree of difficulty they should aim for. However, as a senior who’s observed fellow classmates, and myself, experiencing “senioritis” early on in the school year, I caution younger students against overbooking themselves. 

In most high schools, as early as sophomore year, students can enroll in Advanced Placement courses. According to a 2018 report from The College Board, about 1.24 million U.S. public high school graduates took at least one AP course during the span of four years, a 65 percent increase from 2008. At some schools, such as Stuyvesant High School in New York City, at least 24 percent of the students took at least eight AP classes.

The AP curriculum, administered by The College Board, is designed to prepare high school students for college by exposing them to material equivalent to undergraduate courses. Naturally, students take advantage of this opportunity to improve their college readiness, potentially earn college credit and challenge themselves. But the biggest reason many students fill their schedule with these classes comes from a hot topic in the media this past year – college admissions.

Most high school students assume the number of AP classes they take directly correlates with the number, and type, of schools they’ll gain acceptance to. Only took three APs? Say goodbye to Harvard. Decided not to take any during senior year? There goes your chance at Yale. 

With the pressure to attend top-tier schools, and the increasing selectivity of such institutions, it’s no wonder teenagers feel the need to compete with their peers and cram their schedules with difficult courses.

But the classes may not matter as much as students think, according to former Tufts University admissions officer Peter Jennings.

“They’re much more interested in the life of the mind and the quality of the work students are doing,” Jennings said of his former colleagues in comments made to the Boston Globe. “I think that message gets distorted.”

Instead of taking the subjects they’re genuinely intrigued by, students make the mistake of enrolling in classes that’ll supposedly “look good” in the eyes of elite universities. The result? Disinterested, unmotivated students who are overwhelmed by the heavy workload and the difficulty to obtain the high grades they’re accustomed to; in the end, their choice of classes could do more harm than good.

That isn’t to say all AP students match that description, but it’s characteristic of many, especially those in their senior year of high school who needlessly throw in the hardest classes in their last effort to impress Top 10 schools with their academic records.

When it comes to AP courses, students should take the classes they want to take. Not for college. Not for their transcripts. But for themselves. The AP curriculum is demanding, not suitable for students hoping to get by doing the bare minimum. When you take one of these classes, you should be ready to put in the effort, participate in class, and make some sacrifices every now and then. But you should also be ready to have some fun, to enjoy the work along the way.

My advice to current freshmen, sophomores, and juniors? Don’t worry about the classes your peers are taking. Don’t beat yourself up about college admissions. Find an area you’re passionate about and focus on pursuing that— you’ll be amazed at how far it takes you.

**Note: This is a revised version of a column I contributed to The Examiner News a few months ago.