A few weeks ago I was in my doctor’s office for an annual checkup. Having known my doctor for many years, I asked how his boys, who are now in high school, were doing. He rolled his eyes and said, “They’re great…not getting much sleep, but that’s what four AP classes will do to you!” He said it as though these AP classes were a badge of honor and that sleep deprivation was a rite of passage.
It made me think – are AP classes the new status symbol in high school? For many parents, they are. I’ve been a part of too many conversations in which parents brag about how bone tired their kids are, because they’re drowning under the stressful load of multiple AP courses. Add up the extra hours of homework and the stress of studying for the AP exam, multiply that by four, and then tack on the other three classes most high school kids take. Throw a sport, club, or any other activity on top of it, and you have one sleep-deprived, stressed-out kid.
Although some students thrive on this type of competition, others don’t. The problem occurs when parents live vicariously through their teens, over-pressuring them at almost every turn. They see their child’s academic performance as a reflection on themselves — the better the grades, the better the parent. So it’s easy to see why parents mistakenly buy into the “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality that the more advanced classes a student takes, the better.
I’ve often asked parents why they think it’s important for their student to take three, four, and even five AP classes only to have no life after school. Their response – if they don’t, they won’t get into a “good” college. Fortunately, this is not true. Colleges don’t look to see if a student is a collector of advanced course work. They’d rather see that a student has achieved A’s in just a couple of AP classes than mediocre grades in many courses. Here are some other tips to keep “the more the better” mentality in check:
- Don’t go crazy – The best advice for any student is to take as challenging a course load as possible while HAVING A LIFE, too!
- Make thoughtful decisions – Don’t take AP classes just to take them; choose carefully. Students should choose classes that interest them.
- Think about quality over quantity – Colleges would rather see students take 4 AP classes, earn A’s in each and pass the exams with a 4 or 5, than see a student take 8 classes, earn B’s or C’s and 3’s on the final exams. When it comes to AP classes, colleges want to see that students can be successful with rigorous coursework, because that’s what higher education is all about.
- AP courses are not the only thing that colleges and universities look at when choosing future students. Encourage your child to find a passion in life, and then to run with it. If your teen loves music, a project such as arranging an instrument drive in order to donate instruments to underprivileged kids is a unique challenge that many cannot put on their college application. By getting involved with a cause or organization, students show leadership and dedication. This type of passion and creativity is something colleges look for in potential students as well.
Remember, true challenge can be found in places other than the AP classroom. High school and college are both steps our children take to prepare them for life. Try to focus on the big picture, and don’t get wrapped up in what everyone else is doing. The next time you hear the question, “How many AP classes is your kid taking?” remind yourself that it doesn’t always matter.
Ann K. Dolin, M.Ed., is the founder and president of Educational Connections Tutoring and Test Prep in Fairfax, VA and Bethesda, MD. In her award-winning book, Homework Made Simple: Tips, Tools, and Solutions to Stress-Free Homework , Dolin offers proven solutions to help the six key types of students who struggle with homework. Numerous examples and easy-to-implement, fun tips will help make learning less of a chore for the whole family. Learn more at anndolin.com or ectutoring.com.