The Worst Rumor
Author Maggie Bounds
Talk constantly circulates the halls. “What APs are you taking? What are you hoping to get your GPA up to? You're not taking APUSH and AP Lang together? Why not?” In conversations exchanged between classes, the talk of course selection constantly trickles in. Between friends and fellow classmates, everyone is wondering who has the rest of their life set in motion and who has the leg up.
A plethora of APs and honors classes fills up many a Charter student’s schedule. Whether or not he/she is actually interested in the courses’ material is no longer of concern. Passion has lost all importance, replaced by the indispensability of GPA, a stacked application, and class ranking. But perhaps, the plethora of Advanced Placement courses that your peers promise will get you into the Ivy League of your choice, but simultaneously eat up all of your time, sleep, and social life, is not as mandatory as high school students and parents make it out to be. Perhaps, merely learning material you are interested in, while simultaneously challenging yourself, is enough.
As the Prep Scholar reports, your GPA is important. However, overloading your schedule with Advanced Placement courses that result in a lower Grade Point Average ends up hurting your ranking rather than helping it, making the nonrefundable hours dedicated to studying a waste. The hours of sleep and happiness lost, that you expected would pay off in the end, didn’t. Both universities and colleges alike look for students who push themselves, but simultaneously maintain a competitive Grade Point Average. If you fill up your schedule with APs at the expense of your GPA and sleep schedule, this choice will generate counterproductive results. Not only do colleges see the detrimental impact of an overloaded schedule, they also see right through a “fake” student. Prevalent on college applications is a faux set of interests. Colleges are not vying for someone interested in biology, math, literature, history, and AP textiles. In the words of Prep Scholar, stick to the core subject APs, keep your schedule genuine, and you will be fine.
Pushing this topic deeper, a thesis put forth by Harvard University and endorsed by over 80 colleges titled Turning the Tide dictates, “...taking large numbers of AP courses per year is often not as valuable as sustained achievement in a limited number of areas. While some students can benefit from and handle large numbers of AP/IB courses, many students benefit from taking smaller numbers of advanced courses. Too often there is the perception that these students are penalized in the admissions process.” It turns out, a stacked application is not the key to admission. For some, taking 5 or 6 APs is the only course of action that produces a challenge; but for the others, who dread the coming years, knowing 4 aps will cause constant tears and feelings ofmisery, know that an overwhelming schedule is not necessary for success. This rumor, that a plethora of AP courses ensures admission into your dream school, has been torn down by Harvard University and 80 other key stakeholders in college admissions. Mrs.Lounsbury very happily drives this point home. In an interview, she described “the Tide”: a rumor that has spread, based around the misconception that an application stacked with AP courses, volunteer activities, extracurriculars and sports creates the most desirable student on the market; on the contrary, this belief produces an excessive amount of cookie-cutter applications. “They know that y'all are stacking your resume to look smart and compassionate and they know it is not real, and it is still not giving them a clear picture of the kid--everyone still looks the same, only just more APs and volunteer service that they know is not really important to that kid.” Mrs.Lounsbury and the boards of admission detest this current stigma, particularly, for four reasons:
1. All students appear the same. All of them take an exuberant number of APs, in the hopes of appearing “fake smart”.
2. Lack of passion. Students did not take the APs they were interested in, they took them all.
3. Despite the surplus of AP courses, the students still come out of them knowing nothing, because they did not have the time to truly study them.
4. The kids are burned out by the time they reach college. 18 years of age and already burned out.
The same occurs with extracurriculars, sports, and volunteer activities: an exuberant number of activities, yet a lack of passion. Students pursue quantity, yet disregard the quality.
For Mrs.Lounsbury personally, as well as plenty of teachers like her, this proves frustrating. Students walk into her classroom, in which she teaches 3 courses of AP biology, lacking both passion and interest. She relates that AP Biology is an incredibly advanced course, intended for students that have both a deep understanding of and passion for biology -- not sophomores believing they need to take it in order to be on track, or students expecting to go into economics (for whom it will be an extreme waste of time), or students thinking they have to take it, solely to stack their application. Students enter and exit her classroom, cracking under the pressure that they have put upon themselves, and it’s not even necessary -- Harvard admissions notes it is not necessary. This expectation -- that an abundance of AP courses is key to a well-rounded application -- has no real benefit; it merely prevents teachers like Mrs.Lounsbury from teaching more varied and interesting electives. She teaches 3 AP Biology courses, Mr.Schuder teaches 3 AP Chemistry courses, and Mr.Kiersznowski teaches 2 AP Economics courses. This stigma, that AP courses are indispensable, causes 5 courses of AP Biology to be taught in a year, preventing teachers (like Mrs.Lounsbury) from having the time to teach electives, which would help students actually discover what they are genuinely interested in and would like to later study. “This would make our school better,” She says, “It is just all APs, which are not good for anyone.”
Mrs.Lounsbury ended the interview off with a short anecdote of a girl she tutors, “But then she said, ‘Buuut, the ivies won't even look at you if you don't have all of the APs.’ So there it is --that's it-- the misconception that Harvard was talking about. Of course, I proceeded to tell her all that I am telling you now and she started crying....Then she went off to dance classes in New Jersey until 10:30 that night! And that is her passion--I told her to write about that in her essays, not her APs.” The academics are important, of course, but when colleges look at you through the lense of your application, they are not vying to see a burned out kid that got four hours of sleep a night in hopes of making honor roll; they are hoping to see an individual that is defined by the clubs they participated in, the community they were a part of, and the academics they were impassioned by. If you prefer the former, I suggest investing in a bigger backpack.
** In Mrs.Lounsbury’s interview, she noted that she would like all students, and parents, well, actually everyone, to read the thesis. Here is the link: http://mcc.gse.harvard.edu/files/gse-mcc/files/20160120_mcc_ttt_execsummary_interactive.pdfYou can also search up “Turning the Tide Harvard University”. It will be the one marked as a pdf