Over the holiday, I spoke to a friend about the classes her two teenage daughters are taking this year. The older teen is a senior at a top private school near the family home in New York. The younger is a junior at the local public high school.
What surprised me is how few AP classes they’ve taken. Each teen has only been in one AP course. My friend was not aware of the push — at least here in Georgia — to get more kids into AP. She was surprised to learn that elite colleges expect to see at least four AP classes on transcripts of applicants, especially if the teens attend high schools with a full roster of AP offerings.
Her teen attending public school is a strong math and science student, scoring 700 0n the PSAT in math. Yet, as a junior, she hasn’t taken an AP math or science course. She has taken honors classes, but those seem to have fallen out of favor with colleges because every high school sets its own standards for what constitutes “honors.” In many high schools, honors courses are essentially the traditional college-prep track.
(In 2006, Georgia ended its half-grade lift to honor classes, saying that what passes for honors work at one school is standard fare at another. Faced with the inconsistencies in both rigor and weighting, the Legislature voted to cease factoring extra points from honors classes into the grade-point average used to determine HOPE eligibility.)
Apparently, neither the public nor private high school prodded my friend’s daughters to jump from honors classes to AP. Here in Georgia, the message seems to have been heard that students aiming for UGA or Tech must take the most rigorous courses available at their school. And that typically means AP classes.
That’s also what the select private colleges tell me; they want to see that students have availed themselves of the most challenging courses offered at their schools. (I was reading one of those web sites where high school seniors pose questions to admissions experts. Among the questions dealing with AP classes: I’ve taken 17 AP’s and I’ve gotten straight A’s in all of them, and I’m the valedictorian. Unfortunately, I haven’t taken AP Calc. I did Precalc Hon. and AP Stat. Most of the other top students took Calc, and math has been my worst subject. How will that affect my admissions?)
More students in Georgia are taking AP classes. Only five other states in the country had a greater percentage of AP exam takers last year. The percentage of Georgia seniors who took an AP exam was 38.2 percent, compared to 30.2 percent for the nation. I know many metro high school students graduating with seven to nine AP classes.
Some of you saw out-of-state nieces and nephews over Thanksgiving. I would be curious to hear whether they report the pressure to enroll in AP classes that we see in Georgia high schools.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog