When “AP” stands for “academic pressure”

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AP classes are an opportunity for students to earn college credit while challenging themselves to learn more about a given subject. They contribute to an impressive college application and provide that grade bump that everyone loves.

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Many students choose to take AP classes, and some enroll in as many as four or five of them. Currently, Burlingame has 17 different AP courses from which to choose.

Some of the time, these classes aid high schoolers’ growth as students and allow them to delve deeper into a topic in which they are interested. But often this isn’t the case. Your experience in an AP class is greatly influenced by why you decided to take it. When a student is interested in the topic and wants to explore it further, they are more likely to enjoy the class and do well. When one takes a course because they feel like they have to, then that probably won’t be the case.

Of course, AP classes have numerous benefits, which makes them so appealing to students striving for academic success. They can prepare kids for the difficulty and dedication needed for college and teach them how to work independently. To many students, AP classes allow them to be surrounded by people with a work ethic similar to their own.

“Taking on rigor can be exciting and motivating, whereas taking courses just for an easy “A” can be very unmotivating and unfulfilling,” AP Chemistry teacher Susan Marcan said.

But “exciting” has a limit. There’s a point where a schedule chock-full of AP classes merely causes stress and overwhelm.

Regardless, students often feel enormous pressure to take advanced placement classes, especially to help them get into top colleges.

“If you don’t participate in these AP classes you kind of feel like you are lesser as a student or you aren’t trying as hard or you don’t care as much, which is completely not true,” senior Lola McManus said.

Whether it comes from parents, peers, or their own goals of academic achievement, a number of Burlingame students clearly feel the overwhelming need to take AP classes.

As McManus mentioned, AP has become a measure of academic achievement and commitment to school that signifies a major issue in the mindset of students, parents and teachers. Our focus has shifted from learning for the purpose of learning and feeling passionate about the material to wanting to fulfill the pressure of getting into a highly-ranked college. As a result, students in many AP classes care less about the work and their performance in the class consequently suffers.

In other words, taking AP classes just for the AP label, and not because of any actual interest in the class itself, can cause students to do worse.

AP US history teacher Peter Medine feels that more and more students are taking his class out of obligation and a desire to “pad” their college resume, not because they want to learn US history at a more advanced level.

“Years ago, when I first got to this school, If I had an advanced class, those kids did the reading,” Medine said. “It was just an expectation that if you sign up for an AS or an AP class, you do your homework every day. You show up ready to learn. You try. You’re motivated. That’s not a given anymore.”

It’s obviously important to challenge yourself and take advantage of the opportunities that BHS has to offer. But don’t let AP classes and the obligation you might feel to take them, take advantage of you. Let your interest guide you in choosing your classes, and your grade and learning experience will thank you.

Posted on February 12, 2018 .