The words in front of her started to blur together as she took another sip of coffee. It was 2 a.m. and after one mental breakdown, four cups of coffee and plenty of tears, the project for AP Biology was still incomplete.
“It was not good, but that class was probably the one that I stayed up the latest for — just because at that point I didn’t know how to manage my time well enough to get it done,” senior Dallis Guilliams said, describing her junior year experience. “I didn’t want to do it because I didn’t like to study or do anything. I’ve gotten a lot better at that in my senior year.”
Despite the major stress and workload that comes with Advanced Placement classes, approximately 300 students take them each year. Advanced Placement is a program in the United States and Canada created by the College Board which offers college-level curricula and examinations to high school students. American colleges and universities may grant placement and course credit to students who obtain high scores on the examinations.
West offers eight AP classes at the school, most on an A-day/B-day schedule, and several others online, but the guidance counselors recommend that students take no more than three AP classes in one year. The counselors ask students and parents to sign a waiver if they choose to do more than the recommended number.
“The student and parent have to sign that the student is attempting a course load that is not recommended because I’ve had students get suicidal from all the stress of taking too many advanced classes,” senior guidance counselor Anne Hafer said. “One student did not convey to his mother that I had told him it wasn’t a good idea, so now the parents have to sign off on it. They need to know that I didn’t recommend it.”
Along with the stress that comes with AP classes, many students are involved with extracurriculars. These students have had to learn how to balance their course load and other activities.
“I do Dance Team and the spring musical. I was going to do Debate Team, except I was joining Dance Team and all these other things, and I still had to catch up in AP,” freshman Elise Trexler said. “But I’ve had to call in so many times to say I couldn’t make it. It should be getting better now that I’ve gotten used to it.”
Freshman Elina Misiyuk also balances extracurriculars and school. She said she has learned how to manage her assignments on top of her activities.
“I’m an assistant teacher at a Russian school program. I take church choir and I’m involved in FBLA,” Misiyuk said. “I set aside time to do each thing, and I try to not make my homework and extracurriculars overlap. I don’t want to have to sacrifice the things I want to do over the things I have to do.”
Hafer believes students put themselves under this stress to achieve high grades and class rank.
“They’re grubbing for GPA,” Hafer said. “They’re very competitive, and they want to take AP classes so they can beat out their classmates on their GPA. Some get pressure from parents, but some have a legitimate interest. But usually, it’s the GPA game.”
Other students use AP classes as a stepping stone to better prepare themselves for college.
“I take AP classes because I feel like they’ll better prepare me for college,” Guilliams said, “just having that exposure before actually being on the college level where it’s more important that you do better. I feel like it just eases you into it. So you have a little background before you actually take the class in college.”
For Trexler, her friendships are the main motivator for why she takes AP classes.
“It’s with all my friends,” Trexler said. “We all have been in the same classes. I feel like I can learn better with them because we’ve been with each other for so long.”
Yet Hafer doesn’t believe that AP classes are mandatory to get into a good college.
“I wouldn’t use the word ‘mandatory.’ I would say AP classes are looked on favorably by the college admissions people,” Hafer said. “The better colleges, the more elite, selective colleges, definitely will tell you that they’re interested in the rigor of your schedule. They’re looking at, ‘Did they take advantage of the opportunity for AP classes?’”
Along with learning the material given to them, students also have to learn how to manage their social lives.
“Honestly, this is probably the first year of high school that I’ve actually gone to sporting events,” Guilliams said. “Maybe one or two football games or basketball games sophomore and junior year. I was always doing homework. My friends would ask me to go to the fair or something, and I was like, ‘No, I have to do homework.’ This year I’ve learned how to manage my time better, and I actually have a job. I can do other things, but still do well in school.”
In spite of the pressure, students still choose AP classes.
“Don’t be afraid to ask for help because that’s what the teachers are here for. You just have to be responsible and mature to take them because they do take a lot of work,” Guilliams said. “AP classes are college classes. If you want to do well in them, and if you want to get the most out of them, you’re going to need to actually want to be there. If you don’t actually want to be there, there’s no point in even taking AP.”
By: Khalil Balanay