A Look at AP Class Culture

An examination of the current environment surrounding AP classes, and what students have to say about it.

 

One. Two. Three. Four. Five. These numbers are the culmination of all your work this year in one final test. You take a deep breath. You have one shot, one chance to show your knowledge and earn some college credit early. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. The clock keeps ticking and time is running out. You tap your pencil on the desk as you stare blankly at the page in front of you. Maybe you should’ve gone with that other class instead. Maybe not.

For many students, deciding what AP classes to take (or to take any at all) can be an incredibly daunting situation. At West High, where “excellence is a tradition”, some have experienced even more pressure to sign up for these accelerated courses. Although it may now be considered an important part of education for some, it hasn’t always been this way. 

The Advanced Placement Board began in 1955 with the goal to provide higher-level courses for students and has since reached more than 20,000 schools. Because of this, AP classes have become highly integrated into school culture and now play a prominent role in the college application process. 

If you go to West, you’ve probably considered taking an AP class at some point. For some students, the school environment plays a big factor in their decisions.

“I think that we do push kids into AP classes a lot more than we should,” Amira Qiwai ‘22 said. “I’ve had several experiences with counselors and been like, ‘do you think I should take this or not?’ and they’re like: ‘Just take it, it can’t hurt.’ but it can hurt, it really can. And it can be really hard on your own personal schedule and your priorities.” 

The influence from staff members to sign up for higher-level classes can lead students to make unprepared decisions when choosing their schedule, adding more work to their plate for a subject they may have no desire to learn about. 

“It’s becoming a problem because I know it’s better for the school to have more kids taking AP tests and getting higher scores, so they do push them more than I think they should.”

It’s becoming a problem because I know it’s better for the school to have more kids taking AP tests and getting higher scores, so they do push them more than I think they should.”

— Amira Qidwai '22

West High has received recognition on a multitude of levels for its success in academics, making it important to keep up its appearance by having teens enroll in these classes and get good grades. 

But the pressure doesn’t come from just staff members. For Heidi Du ‘23, students are also likely to make comments that push their peers into taking certain classes.

“Going into high school I was already talking to people I knew who were older, and they were like ‘you should take this AP class, it’s super helpful, or you should take this one.’ But there was also the pressure to take those classes for other reasons. Not because you want to learn but because of social pressures, because people would compare how many classes they would take.” 

The same can be said for Peter Adams ‘22, who recognizes the pressures from peers and the impacts that come with it. 

“I wouldn’t say it’s socially unacceptable (not to take AP classes) but you do feel left out if you’re not taking AP classes and a lot of times AP classes that a lot of people were taking.”

It’s also important to factor in health, though. Remind yourself: What’s best for you? Not every decision can be made purely for academic purposes. 

“What I think can be looked at better is finding a healthy balance of AP classes and not over committing yourself,” Adams said. “With AP classes, you’re taking a big bite, and if you can’t chew that, that’s really tough.” 

This isn’t to say that AP classes themselves are the problem: just the environment around them. There are plenty of positive and negative things to note about the curriculum, and Adams shares one such sentiment:

“I think West High implements them (AP classes) well, a lot of it is because we really do have amazing teachers here… …Especially the teachers who have been teaching their classes for a little while. They’ve really gotten in the groove of it, and they don’t have to modify their curriculum so they already know exactly what’s going to help kids.”

The current culture surrounding AP classes may not end anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean you have to listen to what others say. Choosing what you deem to be beneficial and shaping your high school experience the way you want is all that matters. 

I think you really do need to specialize in what your interests are. I have never taken an AP science of math class. I am perfectly happy with that. I’m going to graduate and I don’t think I ever really needed that or it ever would have enhanced my education because it wasn’t something I was interested in and it wasn’t something I needed additional challenges in.”

— Amira Qidwai '22

“I think you really do need to specialize in what your interests are. I have never taken an AP science of math class. I am perfectly happy with that. I’m going to graduate and I don’t think I ever really needed that or it ever would have enhanced my education because it wasn’t something I was interested in and it wasn’t something I needed additional challenges in.” – Amira Qidwai ’22

Infogram by Joseph Corlette