Too many AP classes?

iVillage Member
Registered: 11-28-1999
Too many AP classes?
28
Wed, 02-27-2013 - 9:44pm

I have the opposite problem that I'm sure a lot of parents would like to have but I feel that my son wants to take too many AP classes in his senior year--it's funny, don't most kids try to get an easier time then?  lol  Well he's a junior this year and is taking the 2nd 1/2 of AP History and the 1st 1/2 of AP English (both 2 yr courses).  His history teacher actually tried to discourage them from taking AP English, saying that it would be too much work to do both--I don't really feel that was a good thing for a teacher to say.  He actualy has done fine this year.  In 1st semester, he was taking 7 classes altogether even though he really only had to take 6--he could have a study, but he chose not to.  This semester, since he had 2 1/2 yr classes, he only has 6 academic classes cause he has to take gym.

He was saying next year besides taking the rest of AP English, he also wants to take AP Calculus, Statistics and Psychology.  I don't really have a problem with Psych.  Now he was just saying how he doesn't understand Pre-Calc at all.  The 1st semester they had trig and he did well in that.  Now they have a different teacher cause the old teacher had a baby.  I don't understand how someone can go from not understanding pre-calc and thinking that they are going to do AP Calc (even though my DD was kind of the same).  There are also 2 levels of AP Calc--DD took the easier one & DS wants to take the harder one!  I think he's nuts.  He doesn't even have to take math at all--only 3 yrs are required and he'll probably never need Calculus.  He goes to a pretty large school and there are a lot of really interesting classes that he could take for electives, so in a way I don't understand some of the choices.  Right now he thinks he wants to follow DD into nursing (and hopefully for my finances will get into the same state university).  They have to take Stats for nursing so even if he does the AP exam in stats, I'm not sure that he could get out of that one--I did stats in college for Sociology and even was a TA and I just thought it was the most boring class.  Well in addition, he also wants to take Physics and Anat. & Physiology.  I just don't want him to burn himself out--he does tend to have a lot of anxiety althoug he's done pretty well this year.  I mean besides this he does have to do college apps & essays and all that kind of stuff.  But whenever I make a suggestion he won't listen to me and just thinks I know nothing because I am the mother even though I am a college grad--even have an advanced degree.  He is somehow so worried that he won't get into college--duh!  right now his class rank is 28 out of over 400 kids--and he did well on the PSATs so I really don't see a problem there.  Oh well, I guess all that HW will keep him out of trouble.

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Avatar for turtletime
iVillage Member
Registered: 05-13-1998
Thu, 02-28-2013 - 12:16pm

I'm not a fan of AP classes at all but kids today are in a frenzy to take them. I get it. They are worried about getting into colleges and want a transcript that shows they've challenged themselves as well as getting the weighted grade. However, AP classes often involve a ridiculous amount of busy work. My DD 16 is part of a program that allows her to take mostly community college courses for duel high school/college credit. She's been amazed at how her college classes move twice as fast, you learn twice as much and have a fraction of the assigned work. What frustrated her most about AP was that the teachers micro-managed how she was to learn which often required copious amounts of unneccessary note taking and rehashing ideas that weren't nearly complicated enough to spend so much time on. Community college classes allowed her to zero in on what she in particular needed to do to master the material and left her time to continue work, her various leadership positions, mount a play and have a little fun.... and be less stressed!

You might consider looking into the possibility of him replacing an AP course or two with classes at your local  community college. He'd get the college credit and weighted grade. He'd get some experience in how college expects their students to learn. 1 semester at the college is equivalent to a full year of high school. Most only meet a couple times a week but I bet the amount of paperwork he'd have to do on a daily basis would drop. Stats was one of the classes DD took last semester and she loved it.

Then again, if this is what he really wants, not much you can do but wish him well lol. 

Community Leader
Registered: 07-26-1999
Thu, 02-28-2013 - 1:22pm

We had the same issue with ODD this year, she's a senior.  Last year she tool 4 AP classes and it was an anxiety ridden year for us both.  She was stressed and had tons of work on top of everything else she was doing.  I finally told her that she was not allowed to take more than 3 and I would prefer 2.  I would not sign off on more than 3, because the parent has to sign their schedule to agree to it.  I had the same reasons you did, its senior ear, she had pushed her self hard the last 3 years, have a year to relax a bit and enjoy her last year.  It took some doing, but we finally agreed on it.  She did 2 dual enrollment classes at the community college over the summer to get those out of the way, US Government and Politics and Communications.  That left her an open class period that she could leave campus early to come home, or stay on campus and use as a study hall to help with the AP classes she did take.  Even with 3 this year its still been a struggle, AP Chemistry is a lot of work especially with lab reports, AP European History has not been too bad for her at all, and she has one other one I can't remember what it is at this moment.  She did take AP Statistics last year, she had not taken Pre-Calc at all, and she did wonderfully in Stats.  But I do see your concern if he didn't do that well in Pre-Calc, it may not be a good idea to take the AP class.  No real suggestions, just what our experience was.  Honestly, if I had looked into it better, I would have made her do more dual enrollment classes as opposed to AP since the credit you may or may not get for college in the class is contingent on your test score that's taken compared to everyone else who takes it that day, and its not even consistent for colleges.  One college ODD applied for gave her 6 credits for the 3 she got on the AP English 3/4 test as well as waiving English 101,  while another one she applied to would have only give her 3, and another one she looked at wouldn't give her any credit, just waive English 101.  At least with the dual enrollment classes, if they are basic core classes, they transfer easily among colleges and you knock it off your list of classes you have to take.

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iVillage Member
Registered: 05-27-1998
Thu, 02-28-2013 - 5:17pm

I agree with the others that a lot of the HW in AP classes is unchallenging busy work and isn't even necessary to do well on the exams. Some teachers (and some schools) recognize this, and only assign what's necessary to cover the material. Others, by far the majority, look at AP classes as a sort of endurance contest to see who can survive. They are more about brutish work loads than intellectual vigor.

That said, DD insisted on 4 AP classes this year, her senior year. Three of the teachers have a reasonable work/life balance policy; one does not, and is responsible for about half her HW on any given night. Not a fun way to spend senior year! I can't imagine how wretched she'd be if she were taking all of these courses at the public high school, where they pride themselves on their astronomical work loads. The good news is that kids who survive these courses say that their college workload is actually easier by comparison.

As you can see, I'm no fan of the AP bandwagon. Smart kids need room to create and for that, they need downtime, which a heavy AP schedule just doesn't allow.

 

iVillage Member
Registered: 09-13-1999
Thu, 02-28-2013 - 11:36pm

I'm not a fan of APs either and I'm glad that dd's school has moved away from them.   They vary wildly in their quality and difficulty and the kids all flock to them to make themselves more "marketable" rather than out of pure interest.  That said, people have explained to me that sometimes there's no alternative: sometimes there's no honors option and the regular class moves at a glacial pace and ends up being harder to endure with even more busy work.     The best thing I can suggest is to ask your son to check into who teaches the classes and what the consensus is as to busy work and quality of class.   I'd even pick the calculus level based on who's teaching the class.  Word on the street at dd's school is that BC (the higher level that teaches the first year of college calculus) ends up a lot more enjoyable and even easier than AB (the lower level that teaches the first semester of college calculus).  

If it is any consolation, dd's current math teacher highly recommends stats, even for those who are going to take advanced coursework in the subject in college.   I have two older girls and both took stats in college, one served as a TA, and both loved the class.  Again, I think it comes down to the teacher and the presentation. 

If he's doing well this year with a schedule that is harder than what the teachers recommended, chances are he'll be fine next year too.

iVillage Member
Registered: 11-28-1999
Fri, 03-01-2013 - 10:56am

I think I have a lot more anxiety about it than he does.  I know he could drop down to an easier level in math if it's too hard--he actually ended up taking College Prep Algebra II rather than Honors cause he never really took Alg. I--it sounds odd but he had the "smart math" class as he called it in 8th grade, then went to Geometry in 9th grade, which he did quite well in, but when he went to Alg II, all the concepts at the beginning of the year that the teacher called "review" he had actually never had.  I think most kids were taking Alg I in 9th grade and then so on.  I do know that DD really liked her AP calc teacher so maybe she can convince him if he is the same one teaching.

I never really thought about trying to take comm. college classes.  We have like a branch of a comm. college that does give classes at night at a school in our town but I don't want him really having to go to night school on top of going during the day--that's when he'd have to be doing HW--otherwise there is no comm. college that is close by.  there is a small college in the next town--one of those that basically anyone can get into but I hardly think taking a class there would be worth it--since it's not in the state comm. college system there is no guarantee that those classes would transfer either.  Also, considering he's thinking of following in his sis' footsteps and going for nursing, except for a couple of classes freshman year, all of the classes were requirements that had to be taken in a specific order so having extra credit isn't going to do him much good--he'll still have to take all the classes there.  I do wonder if he gets a good grade on the Stats test if he could skip that one, even though it's in nursing--it doesn't seem all that necessary, compared to the science classes.

It's interesting how you all have diff. opinions on whether the kids actually learn anything in these AP classes.  I have felt like in history it's a lot of memorization of facts for the test.  The teacher, who seems like kind of a jerk to me, a young guy, brags about how his students get way higher than the national average on the test--it's a lot of drills over & over on questions.  I wonder if he is learning any concepts at all or really has any understanding of the subject.  The English teacher is much better--my Ds has always liked English & reading and he seems really excited about reading things with an eye to symbolism, language, etc.--so I feel that one has been a good experience.  Plus sometimes I read the same book so we can discuss it--although he could not convince me to read Frankenstein.

iVillage Member
Registered: 05-27-1998
Fri, 03-01-2013 - 10:58am

"They vary wildly in their quality and difficulty and the kids all flock to them to make themselves more "marketable" rather than out of pure interest."  I think this is what has led to the great AP race in so many schools. And schools faced with budget issues tend to put more resources into the almighty AP program rather than seeking creative ways to keep bright kids motivated.

At my D's first high school, a competitive public school that made her miserable, her guidance counselor told her she'd be foolish to pass up an AP class in favor of an art class because "top schools all want to see a student take the hardest courses" available to her. This is partly true, of course, so DD felt like she had to stay on the honors-AP conveyer belt and be wretched, or leave. She opted to leave for a school with hard classes but a much saner worldview.

My D's AP Lit teacher actually interviews each student who signs up for her class to see what is motivating them to take it. If they seem like they're just collecting AP credits, she discourages them from taking the course. She ends up with a more interesting group of students that way.

The sad thing to me is that many schools, especially those in the Northeast, just assume that it is the dream of every bright kid to go to Harvard and that nothing else matters.

Avatar for turtletime
iVillage Member
Registered: 05-13-1998
Fri, 03-01-2013 - 11:39am

I have to say, Frankenstien is one of my favorite books!

It's interesting how different areas handle math. In our area, algebra I is an 8th grade standard with a good portion taking it in 7th. Of course, now DD 16 feels she needs a pick-up course in algebra and algebra II because that is the focus on the SAT and it's been awhile since she took them! We don't have 2 year AP courses either. I'm not sure how colleges make sense of all the differences in programs!

Community Leader
Registered: 07-26-1999
Fri, 03-01-2013 - 11:45am

Let's try this again.  Here are two different articles on AP classes I found, one at each end of the debate. 

http://chronicle.com/article/Give-AP-Credit-Where-Credit-Is/137543/

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/10/ap-classes-are-a-scam/263456/

I had been told recently by someone that they were beginning to trend away from AP classes and pushing dual enrollment classes instead, but I am not finding any articles or anything saying that.  I'm going to start another thread on dual enrollment classes as I think its another topic of important discussion.

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iVillage Member
Registered: 09-13-1999
Fri, 03-01-2013 - 4:17pm

There's also the issue of weighted grades: kids take AP classes in order to get a gpa boost.  I've heard parents say that they discourage their children from taking non-weighted classes, even enriching ones in art or music, because the non-weighted grade will cause the kid to lose a top spot in the class.  Sad but it isn't only about getting into Harvard.   Higher education has become out of reach financially for too many families and merit scholarships, many of which are numbers-driven, are a necessity.    The whole system is awful.

Avatar for mahopac
iVillage Member
Registered: 07-24-1997
Mon, 03-04-2013 - 11:24am

I can see why people would have such different takes on AP classes.  There are so many variables in determining whether they are of value to a *particular* student:  the quality of the teacher, the peers in the classes, the size of the school, the number of APs offered, the student's willingness to put in the time, the student's ability to understand the material, and the availability of alternatives.

AP classes are *not* college classes, and they're not meant to be.  They're meant to provide challenging material to motivated students.  No one said they're college courses, at least not at our school.  They may use college texts, but the teachers recognize they're teaching HS kids, not college students.

In our school, all the top students take AP classes.  They are really a given for the top 10%; obviously anyone with the grades and motivation can take them, but if you're in the top 10%, it's expected that you're going to take AP level English, math, science, history/social studies, and language.  DD is graduating with 4 AP science credits, 3 AP history/SS, 2 AP English (Lit & Language), AP Calc BC, AP German, and AP Art.  There are numerous other APs she could have taken but didn't - Statistics, Music Theory, Economics, etc.  The "College" labeled courses in our school are usually taken by kids who didn't have the grades for AP, believe it or not.  DD would not have taken anything other than AP or AP-track classes because she would have been with less motivated students.

She also has a ridiculous amount of energy, determination, and willingness to work hard.  She took AP Art without ever setting foot in an art class, because she got the art teacher to teach her either after school or when she had an occasional free period.  She persuaded the AP Calc teacher, her guidance counselor, *and the principal* that she could take AP Calc only every other day, because that was the only free time she has, and she has a 98 average in the class.  So this year she has 6 AP classes and has after-school activities every day and on the weekend.  She seems to be very happy - this is what she actually *likes*.

She's also found that with the universities she's applying to, all these APs mean she is nearly done with her "core" requirements.  And these are not unselective universities - they're NYU, BC, Vassar, Brandeis, etc.  The others (Wesleyan & Brown) have an open curriculum so it doesn't really count.  I do know that she is *far* better educated coming out of HS in math, science, and history than I was graduating with a BA from my so-called "public Ivy" university in 1983.

But really, this isn't for everyone, and why should it be?  DD's schedule would have been unacceptable to 20yo DS when he was in high school.  He has a high need for his own unstructured, creative time.  As he's been in college, he's amped up his ability to "do more" and is now doing double majors and taking 18 credits a semester while working part-time, but back in HS, this would have been way too much for him.  He's actually smarter than DD, but the constant pressure would have made his head explode.

You also have to look at what the alternatives are.  Our community college is OK, not great - plus, it's really far away.  The opportunity cost of DD taking classes there would be the loss of time with her friends, lowering her GPA, and generally being in classes with *less* motivated students.  I am not knocking community college, I'm just saying what this particular one is like.  DH got an AA from a CC in another county because the one in his was pretty bad, and he had great exposure to fine professors, but that wouldn't be DD's experience if she went to *any* of our local colleges, except the private liberal arts college which doesn't take part-time students anyway.

BTW Statistics counts as a math credit, so if your son is concerned about not having 4 years of math, which most top schools are looking for, he'll get his 4th year by taking Stats.  (Though I agree with you - borrrrring!  I have a degree in market research!)

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