You want assurance that you are doing the best things for your kids.
When they’re in high school, that desire translates into questions of college preparation.
You may have heard that AP College Board classes are THE THING to boost your chances of acceptance into top-notch colleges.
What on earth makes me suggest that AP classes can damage your kid’s college success?
Here are 3 major reasons why too many AP classes may ruin your kid’s chances in college. After I’ve made the case, decide what you think.
The Upside You’ve Probably Heard AP Classes…
AP College Board classes tend to put more challenging texts and information in front of students. Assignments typically call for deeper analysis and more in-depth study. Students have the opportunity to taste the expectations that come with a college workload. Students also build the general foundational skills that will be necessary for college classes.
Plus, AP classes can help get some college credits out of the way at a significantly reduced cost. The fee to take an AP test in 2016 is $92. Students with financial need can also apply for a reduction and even a waiver of the fee. If a student scores highly enough and that score is accepted by the college, this saves thousands of dollars.
The Downside You May Have Missed
Not all AP classes are created equal. They are most beneficial when the instructor uses the AP curriculum with skill. Poor teaching is still poor teaching, and just because a class has an AP College Board designation does not guarantee high-quality instruction.
Colleges are not required to accept AP College Board classes for credit. You could spend a thousand bucks on AP fees and not get college credit for any of them.
If your kid has sub-par AP instruction, even if they get credit which is accepted, they may be then bumped into college classes for which they are not prepared and then fail.
Not only does this have financial costs, failure can lead to a crisis of confidence. I’ve known many kids who have dropped out of college temporarily and permanently after such a blow to their egos.
And there are even bigger reasons I warn that AP College Board classes can damage your kid’s college success.
Getting Locked in an Arms Race
College admissions advisors and guidance counselors are often asked, “How many AP classes should my kid take to be competitive?”
What happens when they give a number?
If advisors say “5,” the competition is on for kids to take 6.
Then next year, there pressure increases to take 7, then 8, and so on.
Remember, a full-time load in college is 4 classes per semester. Why does a 15 year-old need to demonstrate that they can “manage” a college load on top of the other classes and activities in their lives? It’s developmentally inappropriate.
This push for inappropriate competitiveness is how the pressure cooker of college prep has been created.
Education has become a contact sport.
For many kids, it’s not exciting to think about preparing for college; it’s just stressful.
Rather than compete in the number of AP classes, here is a far better strategy: go for quality over quantity
Let’s encourage students to take classes that challenge and interest them. Then they can opt for a few AP classes in select subjects.
By taking 1 or 2 AP College Board classes at a time instead of 4 or 5, students will have more time to devote concentrated effort into those assignments instead of frantically juggling a hectic load.
This strategy can demonstrate to a college admission committee that the student has intentionality, balance, restraint, and maturity. That alone can help them stand out from the crowd of stressed-out AP sheep.
Draining Time From Development
College admission committees like to see that students challenge themselves during their high school years. AP College Board classes are simply one form of academic challenge that colleges recognize.
They are not the ONLY way to demonstrate challenge-seeking experiences.
Academic challenge can be found outside of a classroom.
When students are loaded down with an excess of AP classes, it drains their willingness to seek any further opportunities.
Just ask an academically-stressed kid to go hang out with you at a museum one weekend. You’ll like get an eye roll paired with, “I have too much homework to do.”
There are so many ways to help kids seek well-rounded development: musically, athletically, on a farm, in a forest, through on-going engaged volunteer work, in conversations, around the house, with their FRIENDS!
When time is sucked up by AP classes, they don’t have time or energy for well-rounded development. Maybe they can squeeze in some surface-level stuff, but not the kind of development that comes from concentrated, prolonged focus.
Make well-rounded development your goal: not excessive AP classes on your transcript.
This is actually a winning strategy in the end because colleges are looking for students who can do more than just complete coursework and take tests. They are looking for healthy students who enthusiastically, thoughtfully contribute in and out of the classroom.
Most importantly, your kids win when they can actually enjoy their precious youth. You win when you can enjoy these last precious years with them at home.
Forming Brain-Damaging Habits
Stanford neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky knows a thing or two about stress as the leader in stress research for decades.
He warns, “If you get chronically, psychosocially stressed, you’re going to compromise your health.”
Specifically, Sapolsky shares, “There are now studies showing that chromosomal DNA aging accelerates in young, healthy humans who experience something incredibly psychologically stressful.”
The stress hormones these habits inject into their brains does damage, both short-term and long-term. Stress changes brain chemistry, alters our abilities to proactively manage life, and can shorten our life span!
When students are juggling 4 or 5 AP College Board classes at a time, their brains are under the sustained stress conditions that lead to this damage. Though they may learn to manage the stress, the damage still occurs.
Change Can Start With You
The parent’s job is to protect the child from doing damage to themselves out of their limited experience and knowledge and be the voice of reason and balance until kids can learn how to regulate for themselves.
It is time that parents intercede and get their kids out of the pressure cooker!
Kids tend to climb in the pressure cooker when “all their friends are doing it,” like all the other things of that nature.
Parents need to control their own anxiety about getting their kids into the “right” college.
You wouldn’t allow your kid to do anything that could shorten their life span just to get them into college. Why knowingly subject them to this damage for “a good education?”
Make sure that kids are consistently getting 8 hours of sleep and prioritizing quality of well-being over the quantity of homework assignments.
Our children will be far healthier and happier in the long-run when we take this stance.
For some reason, the increasingly frantic college-bound culture has forgotten whose needs should be most important.
The needs we need to focus on in the college preparation process are not the colleg admission committees.
The focus should be on the long-term well-being of our children.
The goal should be to facilitate students in developing skills, accessing information, and persevering through challenging experiences without pushing them into damaging stress-producing panic.
The outcome should be for our kids to embrace their adult lives ready to contribute and thrive.
Have your kids been unintentionally pushed to the edge?
You can lead them back to balance.
Resolve to be the leader toward a new vision in your family, school, and community.
Share this post with parents and educators you know to start a conversation about the culture in your school and community.
Begin talking with your kids about what they want to focus on now. Ask them how you can help them reduce stress while seeking out meaningful challenge.
Hug them and tell your kids you are proud of them. Period.
Remember every day is a new opportunity to do the best for your kids!
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