“AP Overload” – How Much is Enough?

According to the College Board’s 2019 AP Program Participation and Performance Data, over 170,000 students in New York State were enrolled in at least one AP, or “Advanced Placement” course. As large as this number is, it’s a fraction of the 2,825,710 students across the country reported to be enrolled in an AP class that year. As of 2019, more than 22,000 schools offer at least one AP course. Smithtown High School East and West are among them, offering 27 courses out of the 38 available.

There’s a number of reasons why students take AP courses, one of the bigger factors being the college credit they can earn. At the end of the year, each AP course administers an exam that students can earn college credits for depending on their score. As of 2019, 4,361 colleges give their students credit for AP courses, but the minimum scores for course credit- as well as the specific courses credit can be earned in- vary amongst colleges. With these programs, students can save hundreds of dollars by taking AP exams in high school rather than their respective courses in college.

There is another motive for students taking AP classes, and that’s the classes’ role in the college admissions process. “Academic rigor,” or the difficulty of a student’s schedule, is one of many factors considered by admissions offices when a student is applying to college. A student who consistently takes challenging classes throughout high school has a transcript with much more apparent “rigor” than one who doesn’t, and colleges typically favor a student with a more rigorous workload than one without.

However, no matter the reason, students may tend to “overload” on AP classes and cause themselves an unnecessary amount of stress and work to keep up with. Colleges acknowledge this. In 2016, The Harvard Graduate School of Education released a report advocating for a change in the way admissions offices value their applicants, done in order to put more focus on the common good rather than personal achievement. One of the many topics this report addresses is the AP program, specifically AP course “overload.”

 The section suggests that it is more valuable for a student to concentrate their efforts in just a few areas rather than take as many AP courses as possible and risk having their “academic and personal development jeopardized” by the massive workload. The beliefs and contents of this report aren’t just those of Harvard, either. The report was signed by a number of other prestigious colleges, including all of the other Ivy League schools.

The concern for “AP overload” is real, and even the College Board, who owns and operates the AP Program, has taken notice of it. On July 1st, 2019, Trevor Packer, the Senior Vice President of the AP Program, posted a thread on Twitter addressing “the pressure some students may feel to take more and more AP courses.”

The thread mostly focused on the College Board’s own research showing that students can maximize their “college readiness” by taking just 6 AP courses, and that “college completion rates stay the same for students who take >6 AP courses.” As a result, Packer tweeted that the College Board will begin to ask admissions offices “not to give more than 6 AP courses any extra weight in admissions,” meaning a student who’s taken six AP courses will have just as much weight in “rigor” as one who’s taken more than six.

Not much has been said about Packer and the College Board’s promise since then, but we can only hope that it’s happening. If the attitude of colleges towards “AP overload” as well as Packer’s own feelings towards students putting too much pressure on themselves indicate anything, it’s that change should be coming soon.

I reached out to the College Board’s communications department for comment. They asked me what my deadline is, and upon answering, I have yet to receive a response.