Should High Schools Limit AP Course Enrollment?

Jason Koebler

January 11, 2012

Some students measure their success by the number of Advanced Placement courses on their transcripts. But some high schools are beginning to push back—worried their students are juggling too much.

According to a San Francisco Chronicle article published Monday, a number of schools are considering capping the number of AP classes a student can take in a given year, citing concerns that students may be overexerting themselves and placing too much of a focus on rigorous coursework and not enough on extracurricular activities and hobbies.

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Adee Horn, a peer resource adviser at San Francisco’s Lowell High School, one of the institutions considering an AP cap, told the Chronicle there “would be a sigh of relief” from students if the cap was implemented.

Many college admissions counselors, and some students, feel differently.

“I understand why schools are saying ‘We don’t want kids to kill themselves,’ but most of the students [taking many AP courses] are self-driven.

These are bright, motivated kids,” says Todd Johnson, founder of College Admissions Partners, an independent counseling firm. “When they artificially say you can only take so many APs? It’s totally idiotic.”

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Grace Sun, a student at Lowell High, wrote in the school’s newspaper that she was worried colleges would discriminate against Lowell’s students.

“Limiting the number of APs eradicates the chance for outstanding students to stand out during the college admissions process,” she wrote. It “puts us at a disadvantage when our transcripts are judged against applicants from schools who do not limit students’ AP opportunities.”

But College Admissions Partners’ Johnson and Bev Taylor, director of Ivy Coach, a New York-based college admissions firm, say motivated students can mitigate that problem by taking AP exams regardless of whether or not the associated course is offered at their school.

“Colleges used to say, ‘You’re only responsible for the opportunities that exist at your school.’ That’s not so true anymore. More students are now sitting for AP exams even if they’re not taking the AP course,” Taylor says. “I’m not pushing AP courses, I’m pushing AP tests.”

College admissions officers don’t necessarily agree with Taylor’s recommendation. Roby Blust, dean of undergraduate admissions and enrollment planning at Marquette University, says the college puts a student’s body of work into context. “We don’t say ‘This is an honors course, so it’s less than an AP course,'” he says. “There are many fine programs that aren’t AP.”

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Blust says that, along with transcripts, many high school counselors provide additional information about certain classes’ curricula and rigor to universities.

While he doesn’t necessarily support capping the number of AP courses a student takes, he says many students appear to have “overextended themselves” in high school.

“Having a protocol to make sure students have a well-rounded high school experience before they get to college is a good idea,” he says.

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