AP Classes: Are They Worth the Stress?


Chris Cirelli

As we close out the first semester of the school year, many are beginning to look into and select classes for next year.  This can be a difficult process, as students are engulfed with their current studies and have little time to research; this is especially true for those looking to take Advanced Placement (AP) classes.  

Luckily for you, I am doing the research and, as a student who has taken multiple APs throughout high school, I hope I can offer some guidance.

Personally, I began taking APs in my junior year, but I know many people who started as just sophomores.  Regardless of what grade you are in, taking college courses at such a young age is certainly daunting and stress-inducing; the fact that you are already stressing over a course you have yet to take or even sign up for is most definitely discouraging.  But, I, as well as others, are here to tell you that APs are not all that scary in the end.

I first decided to get a student perspective on the issue.  Sravan Parimi is a senior at Ludlowe who has taken over eight, yes eight, APs throughout his high school career, so if there is anyone to ask for advice on this topic, it would be him.

Beginning in his sophomore year, he has breezed through some of the hardest courses, such as AP Chemistry, US History, and Physics.  When asked about his motivation, he said that he “took them because [he] wanted to learn more and challenge [himself].” He went on to say that these classes “provided a nice GPA boost and looks good for colleges.”  

To me, this brings up two thoughts I had when going through this process.  On the one hand, I knew I wanted to challenge myself by utilizing the vast amount of courses and rigorous curriculum that Ludlowe provides.  At the same time, I knew that these classes were what the best colleges were looking for students to take, so I partly based my decisions off of that motivation.

Although there are many perspectives on this issue, I would personally urge you not to take an AP just because colleges “like it.”  Not only will you be miserable, but doing so may not even increase your chances of acceptance into a particular school.

I know this may seem like an outlandish idea, so I went to an actual college counselor here at Ludlowe, Brian Sutcliffe, to get his views.  While he also deals with the personal problems of students, he is mainly tasked with reviewing students’ course selection sheets, recommending classes to take, and guiding students through the college process.

We got right into the discussion, where he recommended students speak to their teachers about what an AP would be like in their desired content area.  Teachers have “a good read” on what kids can handle, so do not be afraid to visit one and ask questions.

When asked about what he tells students when they wish to take an AP course, he said he asks kids if they “are up for the challenge” and if “the subject area is a passion of yours.”  He went onto say that “colleges want to see that you are taking classes that are appropriate for you.”

I received a similar response from Katie Poole, a math teacher who teaches AP Calculus.  When asked about what she looks for in a student, she claimed that he/she should “enjoy learning math.”

So, even though APs may look “good,” you need to make sure that you actually like what you are learning.  I firmly believe your performance in a class is based on your interest in the subject.

I know this may put APs in a bad light for some of you who are on the fence, but Mr. Sutcliffe nonetheless reaffirmed the fact that “taking AP courses puts you in another pile [of applications], especially for the more selective schools.”  

As an underclassman, I would probably be thinking to myself “screw my enjoyment, I am trying to get into college.”  But, taking these AP courses does not mean anything if you do not do well in them.

A big misunderstanding is that taking an AP will automatically put you in that more selective pile; but, in the words of Mr. Sutcliffe, colleges want to see you “do well in them.”  If the subject area is not of any interest to you and you are simply trying to pile on APs, you will again be miserable and will most likely underperform.

Poole added onto this sentiment by saying students should take something that is going to be “relevant to what you do or are thinking about doing in college.”  Students should “make sure they are taking the class for the right reasons,” and it “should definitely not be a resume booster.”

And, taking an honors course over an AP is not in any way “a step down,” and it certainly does not mean you will not get accepted into the most prestigious universities.  On this topic, Mr. Sutcliffe said that “honors classes are still rigourous and colleges recognize that.” Remember, colleges want to see you take these difficult courses, but that you are also doing well in them.

Well, Parimi probably seems crazy at this point for taking so many APs.  But, he reaffirmed the fact that choosing an AP is “dependent on each person and based on the specific AP class, since different students are at different levels and different AP classes require different abilities and responsibilities.”

For him, he knew his limits and what he could take and, to be honest, that is all you need in this process.  If you enjoy what you are doing and can handle the workload, “it can be very enjoyable and rewarding to learn,” Parimi said.  

When I broke the big question to Parimi of whether or not APs were worth the stress, he easily said, “yes, definitely. Many of the classes were really fun and I’ve learned so much. And it becomes less stressful throughout the year as you adapt to the workload.”

Poole went so far as to say it is “okay to be stressed; if a student is well prepared and passionate about the subject, stress is okay.”  

Not all of us are like Sravan.  In our grade, he is known as one of the smartest, most hard-working students.  But, what makes him so successful is not his sheer intelligence, but rather that he knew what he could handle and had the right attitude when deciding to take an AP.  He recognized his interests and decided to act upon them; the fact that this all coincided with a fairly impressive resume for colleges is just icing on the cake.

In the end, I have no power to tell you that taking APs is worth the stress. Just like many of you, I am involved around the school in clubs and sports; although hard to balance, I knew that I wanted and could handle the challenge.

The final word I’ll leave you with is this: you never know until you try it.  As long as you know your limits, schedule, work ethic and, most importantly, yourself, you will be successful in any class or path you wish to take.