G.R. of Old Westbury, NY writes:
My son, a high school junior, is in the process of finalizing his program for the senior year. His Guidance Counselor has suggested he take five (5) Advanced Placement (AP) courses, including Economics, Chemistry and Physics. He is also being offered a college level course, for which he will receive credit from a local college. I'm cool with the college level course, but five AP courses? Seems a bit much to me. What do you think?

The College Whisperer replies:
What? Only five AP courses? In some of the most renowned school districts, they're "suggesting" six or more!

Just two years ago, a reader of this blog asked about the benefits of AP courses, and whether they were worth the extra time and effort. SEE, Planet of the APs

The response from The College Whisperer -- more like a great, big shout -- was an emphatic YES! Demonstrate your ability to do college level work. Possibly earn college credit. Stand out, academically, from other college applicants.

While, in this advisor's opinion, AP courses remain a great way for exemplary students to shine, excel, and perhaps garner some actual college credits, such heretofore expressed enthusiasm must be tempered now for several reasons.

First, and turning to your query, indeed, five (5) AP courses is a very heavy load. Six (6) or more, in a single year, no less, is nothing short of absurd! True, Guidance Counselors, particularly in the highly regarded school districts, have been pushing the APs for several years now. "Pushing," as in pushing crack cocaine to quivering addicts who hope to score a high that will somehow float them to Nirvana. In many instances, I fear, the suggestion to take on more and more AP courses is fueled by the districts' desire to build their stats ("look how many of our students are taking five or more AP courses") rather than to promote the best interests of individual students.

While some students may well be able to handle the pressure -- not to mention the workload -- of a plate full of AP courses, most will find this undertaking burdensome, if not overwhelming. And five AP courses in the midst of the senior year of high school, with the added load (and did I mention, angst) of college applications, essays, ACTs, SATs, and scholarship searches? Stop me when I've hit a raw nerve.

Back in the day, if you took one (two at most) AP course, it was a big deal. Today, the more the merrier? Not so. A couple of AP courses in subjects your child enjoys and does well in? Absolutely. Five or more AP courses in the senior year? I think not!

That's not to say that high-achieving students shouldn't be undertaking college level work in high school. To the contrary. In fact, most high schools offer college level courses, taught at the high school -- for college credit, no less -- through local colleges and universities. [Here on Long Island, among the colleges that offer credit-bearing high school programs are Adelphi, Molloy, and LIU Post.]

And speaking of college credits (which can free you up to take more electives or even a minor or second major, or perhaps accelerate your graduation, lessening the hit on your wallet), the credits on most high school programs offered in conjunction with local colleges will likely transfer to most colleges. Pass the course and, voila, you've got instant college credit! [Typically, while credits transfer, the grades do not.]

Not necessarily the case with AP credits. Most colleges require a certain score on the AP exam (usually 4 or 5) for college credit to be awarded. And even then... Dartmouth, no slouch of a college, recently announced that they will no longer award AP credit for students entering in the fall of 2014. Period. When an Ivy school pans the AP -- or at least giving credit toward graduation -- can other colleges be far behind?

Of course, advanced, college level courses should not be taken for credit alone, right? It is their intrinsic academic value that matters most. Preparation of the student for the rigors of college. The quest for knowledge. The sheer joy of learning (and paying the folks at College Board, who administer the AP exams, for the privilege).

Bottom line: High achieving students should seek out advanced placement and college level courses offered by their high schools. At the same time, they should avoid the temptation -- or the "suggestion" -- that they load up on such courses, this in the hope that maxing out on the APs will magically vault them into the college of their choice. 

Scores are important. Grades are important. Then again, so is having a life during your senior year of high school -- not to mention maintaining your sanity during the college application and admissions process.

Plan. Prepare. Prevail!

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of The College Whisperer.

Who knows what peril lurks in the college application and admissions process? The College Whisperer knows. . . 

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