Should You Take AP Classes? Part 2

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    AP badIn my last blog post, “Should You Take AP Classes? Part 1″, I provided information about the benefits of taking AP classes.  In this blog post, I’ll offer the drawbacks of taking these classes:

    • AP courses are not as rigorous as college courses.  Many college professors have asserted that the AP courses in their subjects aren’t nearly as challenging as the “equivalent” college courses.  Therefore, students who earn AP scores that enable them to skip an introductory college course and enroll in a more advanced course may struggle compared to students who took the introductory course at the college level.
    • AP classes are not taught on the same timeline as college classes.  Most AP classes are taught over the course of an entire school year, whereas, in college, a course might last anywhere from 3 1/2 weeks (at a college with a block plan) to 16 weeks (at a college with two semesters).  Thus, in a college course, students have far less time to learn the material than in an AP course.  Both this argument and the previous one seem to negate the idea that AP courses truly help students develop the skills needed for success in college.
    • AP courses might not save you money.  More and more colleges are refusing to give students credit for AP exams.  For example, Dartmouth College recently announced that, beginning with the class of 2018, it will not award any AP credits.  Dartmouth stated that its decision was due to the fact that AP courses aren’t as demanding as college courses, and it cited a study the college conducted as evidence of this.  (For more on Dartmouth’s study, see this New York Times article.)  While Dartmouth’s reasoning appears to be in the best interest of students, it also seems likely that  colleges are making it more difficult to earn AP credits because of financial reasons.  After all,  if a student doesn’t have to take and pay for a college class, the college loses money!
    • AP classes place undue stress on students.  In some schools, it’s not unusual for students to take four or five AP classes in a single year.  AP exams are given in May, and many students also take the ACT, SAT, and/or SAT Subject Tests in the spring of junior year.  This means that for several months, these students’ lives will revolve around studying for one test or another.  That doesn’t leave much time for homework, extracurricular activities, a job, or fun and free time.  In response to this problem, some schools have begun limiting the number of AP classes students can take.  Other schools have gone so far as to eliminate the classes altogether and to offer advanced-level, teacher-designed courses instead.
    • AP courses are too broad and inflexible. Many critics of the AP program argue that the courses try to cover so much material that they aren’t able to examine any of it in-depth.  Additionally, because AP teachers have to follow a lengthy and detailed curriculum, this leaves little room for flexibility or creativity on the part of the teacher or the students.
    • AP courses no longer stand out on college applications. Some students think that taking AP classes, especially in large quantities, will give them an edge in the college admissions process.  The fact is that these days, so many students take AP classes that having them on your transcript doesn’t really mean much to college admissions officers.  In 1955-56, the first school year in which AP courses were offered, only 1,229 students took these classes.  But in the 2010-2011 school year, approximately two million students — or one-third of all U.S. high school students — took AP courses.  Colleges always want to see that you’ve challenged yourself by taking the most advanced courses your school offers; my point is simply that having AP on your transcript isn’t the attention-grabber it once was.

    As you can see, there are more arguments against taking AP classes than in favor of taking them.  Yet, millions of students take them every year, so they can’t be all bad.  Ultimately, you’ll have to weigh the pros and cons and decide what’s best for you.  Good luck!

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      About the Author

      Mark is a leading educational consultant. His experience as a professor, college administrator, and youth mentor help him guide students from around the country and around the world.

      2 Responses to “Should You Take AP Classes? Part 2”

      1. Michelle Kretzschmar says:

        I like your list of pros and cons for APs but I was wondering if you would address the issue of not taking an AP and how it affects having “taken the most rigorous courses available” status. I could see where a lot of students would like to skip an AP but are worried about how it will look on their transcript. After all, Dartmouth may not be giving credit for AP classes but what does their admissions department expect?

      2. Mark Montgomery says:

        Hi, Michelle,
        In my opinion, a place like Dartmouth wants kids to take the most rigorous courses available–which at many schools is the most rigorous curriculum offered. This is something quite apart from Dartmouth’s decision not to accept AP for credit. If I wanted to go to Dartmouth, I would hesitate to turn down the opportunity to take AP classes, unless some sort of equivalent were offered. While I don’t have insider knowledge into the decision at Dartmouth to stop offering credit for AP classes, the cynic in me recall’s the refrain of “Deep Throat” of the Watergate investigations: “Follow the Money.”
        Hope this is helpful.

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