AP vs. College preparatory classes

by Elise Chassman, editor

Over half of all upperclassmen at San Marin are choosing at least one advanced placement (AP) class over a college prep class. These accelerated courses help students to improve their standing as a student, from raising their grade point average (GPA) to impressing colleges.

“Most students choose AP classes because of the grade bump, perception of better teachers teaching the AP classes, to be around students who they perceive cares more about school, to stay with their circle of friends, and colleges want them to take a challenging course load,” said Mr. Jim Hu, one of San Marin’s academic counselors.

Stress is a common obstacle for an AP student. Although all students have the possibility of feeling strained in school and at home, AP classes have higher expectations and a greater workload, often causing an even higher level of stress.

“The AP students have a much more rigorous course load and more homework, resulting in stress levels that are often a bit higher than for non-AP students,” said Mr. Jason Obstarczyk, who teaches both AP U.S. History and non-AP college prep U.S. History. “These students are often used to excelling academically and sometimes struggle when they don’t perform as well in AP classes.”

In addition, college acceptance is continually becoming more competitive, and high school students are feeling the need to take a more demanding course load. Students who want to be in classes with other hard-working peers now feel obliged to sign up for AP classes, but they should be able to take college prep classes and expect that the academic rigor of the course will be sufficiently challenging.

“I think an AP class is what you make of it,” said senior Emilie Baxter. “The kids who want to pass that exam in May and expand their knowledge in the given subject benefit. All AP students must work hard to get the most out of the class, no matter what the teacher does.”

Another important issue that comes with taking an AP class is that many students taking an AP class do not intend to take the end of the year exam. AP European History, a popular advanced class for sophomores, has only about half of its students take the exam.

It is seen as an equity issue to have such high expectations for an AP class because they put low income students at a disadvantage. The classes may not be able to pay for extra help, study books, technology, and the final AP test, and this lack of support and tools can hurt the lower income students.

“Students need to understand their part in their own preparation, because no one can do it for them,” said Assistant Principal Leslie Norinsky. “The vast majority of [teachers and staff] go into education because we think that we can make a very real difference in the lives of all of our students. We want the best for every single student here.”