This is only a test. Advanced Placement can lead to stress. Or success.

Students take Advanced Placement classes for a number of reasons. Of course, these reasons vary by the individual. According to College Board the top two reasons students enroll in AP classes are for college credit and placement. Whether it’s to boost a GPA to the 5.0 scale, please their parents, or simply challenge themselves, AP classes have a significant impact on students mentally.

A cross-section of 500 East students were asked if they felt pressured to enroll in AP classes from a variety of sources such as family, administration, or peers. According to the poll given by this publication, 42% of students said that there is pressure to take advanced classes.

Sophomore Isabelle Uthe said she is taking three Advanced Placement classes this school year: AP Biology, AP US Government, and AP English Language. She suggested that because colleges are becoming more and more competitive, students are compelled to make their transcripts stand out. Parents also expect the most from their children.

“It’s a lot of work and I’m sure a lot of people don’t want to be there, but because of their parents or because they’re worried for their future [they take the classes],” Uthe said. 

She also discussed finding self-worth within more complex classes. She said becoming more confident in herself and realizing what she can achieve was a big goal for her.

“I just kind of wanted a challenge you know. I always want to see what I can accomplish,” Uthe added.

Since 2003, there has been a 7.9 point increase in the percentage of U.S. public high school graduates scoring a 3 or higher on an AP Exam, according to College Board.

Senior Charles Fluke, currently in AP Biology, has been in advanced science classes since his sophomore year. He noted feeling pushed in the AP direction by his friends and classmates.

“I feel like if I don’t take more advanced classes, then people are going to assume I’m not smart enough,” Fluke said. 

It’s this competitive nature that drove almost three million students in 2018 to take AP tests. Because the average AP student at East takes about 1.7 advanced classes according to Assistant Principal Julie Lam, counselors are able to use a tool from College Board to assist their decision process for selecting students who will thrive in said classes. Lam organizes an event every year called AP Potential. The program allows an administrator to view what advanced classes a student might excel in. For instance, if a student scored high on the math section of the PSAT, they will probably be recommended for an AP math class, like AP Statistics. Lam then hosts an informational meeting where she invites students who, just like the name suggests, have AP potential.

“It’s not necessarily to push a student into an AP course but it’s mostly to make them aware that they have the potential,” Lam said. “I don’t want students to overburden themselves by taking way too many AP courses because that’s a lot of work.”

Do you feel outside pressure to take advanced placement courses?

Poll based on a cross-section of East students.

“I feel like if I don’t take more advanced classes, then people are going to assume I’m not smart enough.”

— senior Charles Fluke

Junior Samuel Downs said he felt overwhelmed when it came to choosing his course load for his junior year. Enrolled in the Advancement Via Individual Determination, or AVID program, Downs had no choice but to take Advanced Placement classes, despite realizing college wouldn’t benefit him due to the career he wishes to pursue.

“Despite my reasoning, however, the chairman of the program was refusing to let me leave the program at first, giving every reason to not allow me to leave,” Sam said. “This put strain on me personally because I was working 30 hours a week last year with only Mondays off, and just couldn’t handle all the college preparatory work and the AP classes at the same time.”

With a cumulative three-hour test at the end of the year that can determine whether one receives credit for expensive college classes or not, students are more than likely to become overwhelmed. Counselor Jessica Ziegler mentioned that she feels that every year, mental well-being is becoming more of a priority.

“The pressure still exists but I think we’re seeing a little bit of a change. It’s more mental health savvy and what we can handle versus what we should do,” Ziegler said.

Fluke is dropping out of AP Biology second semester after acknowledging the fact that given more information, he probably would not have taken the course despite the opportunity to earn college credit.

“I believe it’s better for my overall GPA and my mental health that I drop. If I had another semester of this class, I would explode,” Fluke said. “I may not know as much as some of my classmates, but the classes I take don’t dictate me as a person.”

Lucy Weiher is a staff writer for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl

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