July 16, 2013

Get Ready For College With Me: AP Classes

Hi again! If you're new here, you probably didn't know that I have just graduated from high school and am transitioning toward college. Going to college signifies many new beginnings: I'm moving to a new state, meeting new people, and am about to experience new tastes, sounds, and feelings. It also marks the end of several things too. So I'm starting a little series here today where I just talk about what I am doing this summer to make the transition and share some tips I've learned with any high schoolers there who are thinking about college or are getting ready to apply.

I hope you find this useful, but just let me know in the comments what your opinion on these topics are, or what you'd like to see, and I'll be happy to reply or answer any questions!

So today I just wanted to share a boatload of thoughts regarding Advanced Placement scores--Advanced Placement classes in general.

There is a lot I can say about AP classes, so I'll try to make it direct and as quick as possible, but this post will be fairly text-heavy so get your reading glasses on!

Throughout my four years in high school, I took 10 AP classes--six of them during senior year. These classes were (in chronological order): European History, U.S. History, English Language and Composition, Biology, Calculus AB, Chemistry, English Literature and Composition, Psychology, U.S. Government and Politics, and Microeconomics.

Many people ask to differentiate between IB and AP classes. Both can give college credit, and both are definitely for students that want to be challenged and explore subject areas with more detail and rigor. Most people that I've talked to say that the main difference is that in IB classes, there are certain classes that all IB students must take in order to receive their IB Diploma, whereas AP students are able to pick and choose which classes they want to take. To be honest, there are pros and cons to picking which classes versus being required to take a core curriculum.

Allow me to explain: I went into high school as a writer--I couldn't envision myself doing anything else in my spare time. But, in taking upper level classes in other areas, I found that while I do have some modest strengths in writing, I excelled in the sciences--they just sort of "clicked" more.

From my perspective, during high school it is definitely a good idea to go for a well-rounded education and challenge yourself to excel in a variety of classes rather than focusing on one or two specific classes. My initial plan involved taking only AP English classes, and perhaps an AP History class. However, when I stepped up to doing more left-brain classes, I found myself becoming more and more intrigued by little particles that make up the world, neurotransmitters and how they affect behavior/personality--just science in general. And since AP classes are more detailed, they give you more insight to what's interesting to you. So as far as the amount of AP classes you should take goes, my advice is to take as many as you can (schedules and number of options do vary person to person), so you can explore your interests and discover new ones if the IB program is not offered in your high school. (And if AP/IB classes are not offered in your school, take the honors and try to find a way to take the AP Exams in the spring to try to get college credit.)
Quick Tip: If you're applying for colleges/universities such as Stanford, Washington University in St. Louis, or any of the Ivies, having a strong academic record is necessary, and obtaining one is easier if you take more AP/IB classes. (Even if you aren't, I can tell you from personal experience that having good grades in these classes will help you receive substantial merit-based scholarships.)

Another reason why it's good to go for AP/IB is that you'll be with a different group of students. I'm not saying that the kids in AP/IB classes are smarter than kids in other classes. However, these kids are challenging themselves more in the classroom, so there is certainly a different dynamic. And, you know, when you're around people who are inspired and hardworking, it's hard to not be inspired and hardworking. Utilize peer pressure in a good way.

As somebody who took a full load of AP classes the last year of high school, I can say that the load is manageable. The idea of having "half an hour of homework a night for each AP class you take" wasn't true for me--the maximum number of hours I ever had in one night was five, and that was only when I procrastinated 1-2 weeks' full of work to the last minute (I'm looking at you, APUSH). Even senior year, I was able to do homework, practice tae kwon do (2 hrs/night), loaf around on the Internet (1-3 hrs/night) and practice my violin (30 min/night) every evening. Taking the full load not only got me out of many core credits for college, but also taught me discipline and time management that will help me this coming fall. So if you're in a sport or unlike me have a significant social life, the homework is still doable as long as you pace yourself and are efficient about working. (But remember: a manageable load does not equal a negligible one.)
Quick Tip: Make a schedule for yourself. Write down what time you usually get home, and add time slots for extracurricular activities (remember to take driving time into account). Then, fill the gaps in with time to do homework (I would set aside certain time frames for specific projects as well). Also plan out the amount of sleep you need. When you have a schedule in written form, it's a lot easier to follow and stay on pace. This planning exercise helps especially if you aren't as disciplined when it comes to time management. It definitely helped me a lot throughout the week.
Ultimately, it boils down to doing your best. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. Some people are able to juggle being president of three clubs, taking four AP classes (acing them, of course), and being captain of the soccer team. That is beyond my capability, but I found extracurricular activities that I loved, and I invested my time and heart into those. Put in a lot of effort and soul into all you do throughout high school, and I assure you that you will reap the benefits.

And here's a quick word on AP Exams: Aim for the 5s. Start preparing for them 1-2 months in advance. A 4 or 5 is needed to give you college credit (a 3 on rare occasions), so don't just aim to pass. Aim to get the highest score so that you can so that you won't have to retake the class in college and can then explore the possibilities of double majoring and graduating early--getting more out of the ridiculously expensive college tuition. (This advice is for the exam, though. When it comes to the class, work hard because you want to learn more--don't just work for the test. Having this slightly different perspective when it comes to studying for class versus studying for the test will make the year more bearable and less stressful; hopefully you'll be able to enjoy it more.)

So there are my thoughts on AP classes. I hope you found this post helpful or motivational. If you didn't...I don't know what to tell you.

For anyone who's taken them or anyone who wants to take AP classes, please share your thoughts, experiences, and questions in the comments!

Take care,
-Riley XO


  1. Thanks for this post! I am taking AP Biology and AP World History this coming school year as a sophomore and I am kind of nervous. I'm also on the Varsity Track team. I will definetely use the schedule idea! It sounds so professional and beneficial.

  2. I haven't taken AP World, but it is an AP class designed for students who are trying AP for their first time. As long as you stay on top of the work and do a good job reviewing, you should do well. AP Bio involves a lot of content, so I recommend purchasing a review book which will help you focus on specific/key ideas that are necessary to do well. When it comes to science classes, I only use textbooks as a reference if I need to look something up because they usually end up dense, but I've found that REA and the Princeton Review both do a good job of organizing the material in a manner that is more easy to process. Hope that helps a bit too :)

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