A Taste of College

Students and teachers detail their experiences in AP Seminar and AP Research.

In high school not all classes are created equal, at least in the eyes of colleges. AP classes are far and away the best way to impress colleges and get credit in high school. The view of AP classes as following strict guidelines from the college board and being railroaded into a test isn’t as correct as people think. The truth is some AP classes are even more open than most high school classes with very little required curriculum. They are taught at West by Tyson Smith.

“This is what’s different about seminar and research from probably any other class at the school, because if you are teaching chemistry there are these facts of vocab terms and these processes that students need to know, and if you’re teaching government they have to know about the legislative branch, the judicial branch, whatever. In seminar research there’s no specific topics you have to cover, instead the course is about how to do skills,” Smith said. 

AP Seminar and AP Research were first offered in 2014. They are one of the more unique options students can take. Additionally when taken together, and if students succeed on five other AP classes with test scores of four or higher, they can earn an AP Capstone Diploma. This diploma is a useful title for showing colleges you are ready for college level work. This special diploma is not the only thing that attracts students, the skills these classes teach students are some of the major selling points.

“You practice finding articles, figuring out what they mean, and practice formulating better research questions,” Smith said. “Most of us can find a website that says a thing we want it to, but what about a high quality magazine, article, or even a scholarly journal article.”

This focus on research techniques is one of the major parts that separates both AP seminar and AP Research from other classes, AP or not. Kiera Holtkamp ’24, has seen her skills grow during her time in AP Seminar.

“I think I’m better at everything school wise just from taking the class.” Holtkamp said. 

Although this may seem nice, the class can be academically difficult with large amounts of work that students have to be self-motivated to do. This is part of the reason why so few students take the class each year. Emma McPearce ‘23 is a AP Research student who is a strong advocate for the class.

Most of us can find a website that says a thing we want it to, but what about a high quality magazine, article, or even a scholarly journal article.”

— Smith

“If people are looking for, you know, kind of a chill, but academically rigorous environment, Capstone is for you,” McPearce said. “I really have loved it. It’s been like some of the highlights of my high school,”. 

Additionally being labeled as an AP class with a prerequisite makes taking the class seem intimidating to some students.

“My AP seminar class was 13 people and my AP research is 7,” McPearce said. 

Another main attraction is the freedom of the class. This reflects some students’ beliefs that high school classes are too controlling, and their desire for more choice in schools. 

“I was interested in [AP Seminar] because you have a lot of freedom in the class,” Holtkamp said. “I think that everyone should take the class because you can make it anything you want it to be.”

I think I’m better at everything school wise just from taking the class.”

— Holtkamp

Another factor that differentiates these classes from most AP classes is the final AP test. For AP Seminar the test consists of analyzing an article, using the skills students have learned throughout the year and writing an essay from provided sources. The projects created throughout the year also factor in a student’s final AP score. 

In AP research students are scored based on writing a paper and creating a presentation about their research question, they also have to defend their claim and methodology. The entire year is spent on these projects.

“There are some rules about what a teacher can do and can’t do … they want to make sure that those presentations, those papers, are the student’s work,” Smith said.

In the capstone classes the student has to be motivated by something a little bit deeper than the points I have to offer.”

— Smith

Because the students are in control of what they create, self discipline is an important skill.

“In the capstone classes the student has to be motivated by something a little bit deeper than the points I have to offer,” Smith said. “There is probably no other class in the school where you get to decide what you are learning about half or more of the time. And in seminar it’s probably a little more than half and in research it’s nearly 100%.”