Story by Sophie Robson Graphic by Margaret Teagarden
It’s two o’clock in the morning and you are still awake, pouring over your books and messy notes. You have an APUSH test tomorrow and you still feel underprepared, even after five hours of studying. Realistically, you know that you should be sleeping, but you’ve come to realize that losing sleep is a small sacrifice you have to make for good grades. At three o’clock, you decide to give up and go to sleep, thinking about the other AP class homework you weren’t able to finish.
This is a common experience among AP students at WHS, especially those taking more than one higher-level class. However beneficial these classes may seem when applying to colleges, there are many drawbacks such as increased stress, financial burden and the socio-economic disadvantage some students face.
A problem that affects a significant amount of WHS students, AP classes cause immense stress for many taking them. In a study, researchers at the University of Southern Florida found that a “higher pressure academic environment produced increased levels of stress, caused increased mental health problems and reduced happiness, fewer friendships, and disengagement from school.”
Due to the high level of these courses, a very competitive atmosphere surrounds AP classes, specifically between students who are constantly trying to be the best. Additionally, there is a lot of stress placed on students to succeed in these classes from both parents and themselves. In order to decrease the stress levels of higher level students at WHS, the competitive environment and pressure to succeed needs to be reduced.
Another issue that adds to student stress is overloading AP courses. According to Edmodo, an online learning blog for teachers, students, parents and administrators, “unless you’re applying to the most selective universities, 4 to 5 AP courses over your high school years is more than enough. For students applying to the most selective colleges, you might need 7–12. But even so, taking 4 AP courses in a year can be extremely challenging.”
Some students at WHS do take four or more AP classes in one school year, causing a monumental amount of stress. Because of all of the workload that comes with a single AP class – the homework, studying, reading, quizzes, tests, essays – students need to only take what they really need to for the colleges they want to apply to, not just load up on all of the AP courses they are able to.
Another element that comes along with taking AP classes is the cost of exams. At $105 per exam at the first registration date, they come at a high price. According to an article in the Sage Journals, which publishes peer-reviewed, original research, “AP students tend to be from higher income families, are more likely to be White and attend suburban schools, and have better academic preparation for high school than non-AP students.”
For instance, a higher income and a lower income student are at the same academic level. They are both taking four AP classes. However, due to the cost of exams, the lower income student is unable to take any while the higher income student takes all four exams. This puts the higher income student at an advantage over the lower income student when applying to colleges, even though they have the same intelligence level.
Ultimately, AP classes cause immense amounts of stress for students who take them and the high cost of the exam creates a disadvantage for lower income students. Due to the competitive atmosphere surrounding AP classes and the pressure placed on students to succeed, stress levels are extreme among advanced students. The amount of AP exams a student can take is correlated with the socio-economic situation of the student, causing this disparity between higher and lower income students to exist when trying to stand out to colleges.
Thus, students who experience serious stress need to reduce the amount of AP courses they take so as to remedy the intensity of school. Moreover, the cost of AP exams needs to be lowered so as to accommodate for students of lower income levels who want to take exams but can’t and are therefore disadvantaged. If these changes were made, student stress would significantly decrease and the playing field of college applications would be leveled so students have equal opportunities for success.