Abundance of APs normalizes student stress


Graphic by Masie Arlotto

Anna Arnsberger

It’s that time of year again: course selection. Whether you’ve already spent weeks meticulously planning or you’re choosing on the spot, deciding which classes to take can be difficult. Next year Wilson will offer 29 AP courses of the available 38, more than any other high school in DCPS. This myriad of options is meant to give students a chance to pursue their individual interests at a higher level. But, while unintentional, a surplus of APs sets unreasonably high expectations.

Colleges can see high schools with a lot of available AP courses and expect applicants to have challenged themselves with rigorous schedules. Additionally, students are told to take advantage of as many free college credits as they can. It seems as though the only way to be set up for success in college is by capitalizing on Wilson’s infatuation with Advanced Placement.

But where Wilson puts emphasis on APs, other high-level classes fall short. While students can choose from a broad selection of AP courses, the only honors electives available are the ones in the Biomedical and engineering pathways. Students are forced to choose between what ae often two drastically different ends of the elective spectrum—AP versus on-level. Those looking for a challenge end up choosing the former, whether they are prepared or not.

If one is worried about taking too many difficult courses, looking towards other students does not offer much solace. “Junior year sucks,” is not a matter to be questioned, but rather a widely accepted reality. Those that came before took five, six, even seven APs and made it out alive, so why can’t you do the same? Pressure from class ranks and others’ accomplishments compels students to push themselves to the limit. The languishing AP system has created a succession of students with unbearable workloads, setting an unrealistic precedent that’s impossible to break.

APs are supposed to be the highest-level course that schools offer. Said to be on par with college courses, they are often considered the pinnacle of high-school education and shouldn’t be taken lightly. However, as tens of thousands of schools across the country drown in a wave of APs, the value of these college-level courses has quickly depreciated. With APs now in abundance, it’s considered typical for students to be taking multiple at a time. These courses have become so normalized that many colleges no longer even accept AP credits for class replacement. What was once a chance for advanced students to go above and beyond is now considered an ordinary obligation.

The push for APs by our education system all culminates in a culture that pressures students to set themselves up for suffering. Students can’t help but stack their schedules with rigorous courses, even though they’re bound to face the consequences later. Burdensome stress and apathy towards learning, common symptoms of AP overloads, are ultimately swept to the side as inevitable aspects of high school.

While the scourge of heavy course loads is easily recognized, curing this issue is not as simple as telling students to go easier on themselves. As nice as it would be to stick it to the system and only take a precious few APs, doing so makes certain students feel as if they’re creating a pretense of mediocrity. Deciding to take more realistic courses may be best for one’s well-being, but to outsiders, they’re painted as lazy. High-achievers suffer under the expectation to succeed by maximizing their high school education. But with the way our schools are set up, milking success is done by conforming to the flawed AP system; a tiresome high school experience is just one students have to accept.