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The AP/IB/AICE/college/etc. course arms race...

ucbalumnusucbalumnus Registered User Posts: 59,748 Senior Member
These days, it seems that high school students aiming for highly selective colleges are racing to take as many AP, IB, AICE, college, etc. courses as they can, and some high end private prep schools claim that their courses are better and more rigorous than AP, IB, AICE, etc. courses.

Seems a far cry from the days when college-prep high school students mostly took standard college-prep courses, with a few AP courses in their best subjects after taking the honors prerequisite courses in those subjects the previous years.

How common is it to get into a highly selective college these days with at most a few (fewer than 5) AP, IB, AICE, college, etc. courses (and not attending a high end private prep school claiming that their courses are better and more rigorous than AP, IB, AICE, etc. courses)? Or even no such courses at all?
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Replies to: The AP/IB/AICE/college/etc. course arms race...

  • blossomblossom Registered User Posts: 7,736 Senior Member
    Dual enrollment where I live is pretty much a non-starter- I don't know any HS kids who have ended up at highly selective colleges who have done it. IB is also not that common.

    AP varies- you've got kids getting in to Harvard with 4 AP's, and kids heading off to Hofstra with 12. So I don't think that taking lots of AP's in and of itself is all that meaningful.... adcom's seem to be looking for something other than a high medal count.

    I think the arms race is more dangerous the next rung down, to be honest. The kids who end up at Princeton and Yale et al from my area seem like happy, cheerful kids. They've done extraordinary things for the most part and are enthusiastic about learning, but they aren't the "stay up until 2 am doing math homework" types.

    THOSE kids are the ones I worry about- loading up with everything without the emotional capacity to handle all the pressure. The most stressed out kid I know from my neighborhood is going to U Maryland (January admit). She spent four years of HS ferrying between tutors and SAT coaches and what-not, and her parents were constantly bragging about her "heavy work load taking so many AP classes". Maryland is a fine college, but even out of state- kids from here get into Maryland without the tutors and all that jazz. Barnard was the dream school- rejected. I think the parents were happy to spend the money on all the tutoring if she ended up at Barnard- Maryland is a bit of a come down for them.

    So arms race- possibly, but not at the tippy top. More like the parents playing the nuclear option whose kids are NOT going to end up at the elites.
  • LBowieLBowie Registered User Posts: 1,656 Senior Member
    Our high school in a high performing New England town deliberately does not offer a boatload of AP courses, yet students still still to be accepted to selective and highly selective colleges. I think it's an attitude of just say no to the arms race. Teachers want to offer interesting courses not necessarily for a particular curriculum.

    On top of that, AP courses often do not guarantee course equivalence in college courses. Colleges may only give genetic credits, but not credit for a particular course. This is how at works at my younger son's school.
  • momofthreeboysmomofthreeboys Registered User Posts: 14,815 Senior Member
    Same here. I think ours offers around 5 AP courses. There was talk of adding IB a few years ago but I don't think it got much traction. Doesn't seem to hurt the kids much that I can tell.
  • CorinthianCorinthian Registered User Posts: 1,277 Senior Member
    My kids attend a competitive public high school that regularly sends kids from the top 10% to various highly selective schools, including a few to HYPSM every year. It's basically impossible to end up in the top 10% if you don't take a lot of AP classes, because of the way grades are weighted. You definitely won't be in the top 5% without 10 AP classes. My younger kid is not going to be a candidate for highly selective schools, but she still wants to take some AP classes because once you hit junior/senior year, in a lot of the non-AP classes the rest of the students are very disengaged. So she's going to be the kid in the AP class who will be working hard to get a B.
  • droppeditdroppedit Registered User Posts: 456 Member
    D18's large public HS (around 3000 kids) offers a whopping 30 AP classes. Fairly evenly split between English, Math, Fine Arts, Science, Foreign Languages, and Social Studies. D18 is on track to complete 8 AP classes: Bio, Calc AB, CS-P, Chem, Calc BC, CS-A, Physics-C, and Lang. The last four next year. I think that's too much but "I need to keep my rigor up".

    In D18's school there are basically three levels of classes: AP, honors, and on-level. She refuses to take on-level classes in school because they're ridiculously easy and full of behavior-problem kids. She takes those classes online. On the other hand, you have the kids competing for Val who take >10 AP classes in school, online, and during the summers. They watch their GPAs closely and try to keep secret how many APs they're taking so other competitors won't up their AP count in the AP Arms Race. It's crazy.

    Note that this crazy competition is almost exclusively between Asian kids. D18's HS is around 70% white and 20% Asian yet the top ranks, STEM classes, clubs, etc. are >90% Asian. D18 is usually the only white kid in the group. Why? Because this is a high tech area north of Atlanta. The parents of these kids are in STEM fields and are the cream-of-the-crop of India, China, Korea, etc. Actually, I think its an even more select group, most of the parents of the ultra-high achievers are not US citizens. Those kids are driven very hard by their parents according to D18 ("you guys never pressure me to do well in school like the parents of the other kids").
  • labegglabegg Registered User Posts: 1,003 Senior Member
    "D18's school there are basically three levels of classes: AP, honors, and on-level. She refuses to take on-level classes in school because they're ridiculously easy and full of behavior-problem kids."

    ^^^^^^^^^This, This, This. Absolutely my kiddos, at a 2000+ suburban/urban HS would love to cut back on their AP courseload. DD'16 graduated with 11. DD'18 is on track for 9. My kids are not mega smart and they are not aiming for highly selective schools but they are hard workers with B/B+ averages. All the AP's they have taken are unnecessary in an academic sense, but those on-level classes are a teenage nightmare, who wants to spend all day with "Jeff Spicoli" or the kid who pulled out a knife in My DD'18 on-level class today.
  • lookingforwardlookingforward Registered User Posts: 22,474 Senior Member
    Regardless whether a hs offers 30, the most important (for a tippy top) are still the cores: lab sci and math, history, English, and FL, (if it can be fit in.) It does depend on the major, but that's the real arms race, owing to the competition. Kids aiming high, pushing themselves, should get those in before the fluffier.

    Nope, not all hs offer AP or IB or more than a few AP, many don't offer AP physics, eg. Those kids still get into TTs. They show strengths in other ways.

    "How common is it to get into a highly selective college these days with at most a few (fewer than 5) AP, IB, AICE, college, etc."

    Well, not uncommon. We should know it's quality over quantity. It's been said time and time again. An issue is kids think it's quantity and load up on the non-cores, often it doesn't make sense. Eg, wanting STEM, loading in micro/macro, psych and ES, but missing AP chem and physics, for no good reason.

    I'd like to see the mega quantities of APs go away. They aren't college courses.

    DE is fine. If it's a non-starter, it's when the kids do random courses in place of cores. Many, many math kids are using the DE opp to get ahead in math. Some kids with all the prep already in place use DE to test different interests in engineering. Nothing wrong with that.

  • PurpleTitanPurpleTitan Registered User Posts: 9,627 Senior Member
    Very good point by @ucbalumnus. Before I moved to CA, I never saw a single Asian-American garbage collector in my 20+ years in the Midwest up to then.
  • warblersrulewarblersrule Super Moderator Posts: 9,293 Super Moderator
    edited May 21
    ucbalumnus wrote:
    How common is it to get into a highly selective college these days with at most a few (fewer than 5) AP, IB, AICE, college, etc. courses
    It should be noted that the IB Diploma requires 6 courses, at least three of which must be at Higher Level (a two year sequence). Students typically take 5-6 IB classes per year during their junior and senior years, as some SL classes are also spread over two years by American high schools (e.g. foreign languages). IB is typically all or nothing, though some schools are allowing students to take isolated IB classes (IB certificate).

    AP is rather different in that students can take as few or as many as they'd like...and I agree that the "gotta catch 'em all" mentality has certainly increased quite a bit on CC.

    According to College Board's statistics, the number of AP exams taken has doubled in the last 10 years, rising from 2.3 million in 2006 to 4.7 million in 2016. The numbers of AP exams per student, however, have stayed remarkably consistent.

    AP exams per student in 2006
    1 56.5%
    2 25%
    3 11.3%
    4 4.72%
    5 1.69%
    6 0.55%
    7 0.15%
    8 0.04%
    9 0.01%
    10 0.00%

    AP exams per student in 2016
    1 54.1%
    2 24.4%
    3 12.4%
    4 5.62%
    5 2.20%
    6 0.74%
    7 0.21%
    8 0.05%
    9 0.01%
    10 0.00%

    In 2016, only ~25,000 students took more than 5 AP exams. That's about as many students as Cornell and Penn enroll combined.

    While students are taking about as many AP exams per year as they did a decade ago, it seems that more students are taking them in their freshman and sophomore years, leading to a higher total number of APs. In fact, the percentage of freshmen and sophomores taking AP exams has nearly doubled in the last ten years.

    2006 AP exams
    0.80% Freshmen
    8.81% Sophomores
    35.3% Juniors
    49.5% Seniors

    2016 AP exams
    3.77% Freshmen
    13.3% Sophomores
    38.5% Juniors
    42.7% Seniors

    labegg wrote:
    All the AP's they have taken are unnecessary in an academic sense, but those on-level classes are a teenage nightmare, who wants to spend all day with "Jeff Spicoli" or the kid who pulled out a knife in My DD'18 on-level class today.
    One of the reasons my parents placed me in IB way back in middle school was the ability to attend a halfway decent school instead of the cesspit that was my neighborhood school. Attending a magnet program can make or break a student.

    Given the acceptances posted in the "where are the top students from your high school going?" thread, I suspect the parents here have access to MUCH better high schools than average.
    Post edited by warblersrule on
  • momofthreeboysmomofthreeboys Registered User Posts: 14,815 Senior Member
    Yes, if the caliber of teachers and students are in the healthy good range, the classes will be challenging without the AP branding. Big schools that need to segregate the kids into regular/honors/AP etc. may use the "branding" simply as a differentiation although for all practical purposes should have teachers capable of teaching that level of student. I've said it before but the two most rigorous courses at my kids' former high school were non-branded classes taught by exceptional teachers. In general the placement history of previous students into colleges and the high school's profile data is enough to give admissions counselors information about whether the student is capable of success at that college. I'm not too keen on my tax dollars paying for branded programs....I'd rather see the money spent on acquiring good teachers. I think the community feels that way too and why IB never took root and perhaps some administrators in some districts "need" the branded classes to prove to their peers in other districts that they are doing a "good job" or want it as a selling point, but it's all rather silly in my opinion.
  • SybyllaSybylla Registered User Posts: 711 Member
    The reality is these AP/IB classes are the only way to be in classes with like minded kids in big publics with a spread of socioeconomic populations. The less academic local privates here prevent students from doing APs due to score risk as their boast metric is about scores over participation. I assume that no AP is really a college level class, but only the parents of kids who don't do APs seem to think they ARE. As far as IB, for me, it isn't about branding at all, it is about a defined standard of rigour that is not set by some "silly" nut jobs on the local level who might like to think the world is 7000 years old.
  • momofthreeboysmomofthreeboys Registered User Posts: 14,815 Senior Member
    No, in my opinion that is the fallacy....that the AP brand trumps a good teacher with a good curriculum geared toward students who are willing to take a rigorous class. Kids don't get to take the rigorous classes in my kids' high school without having passed the prerequisite course. Plus the 5 AP classes their final grade is based on the AP exam....so a 5 is an A, a 4 a B, a 3 a C....so kids don't take any of the 5 AP classes that are offered without thinking about the outcome. The control is the school administration and teachers...if they want to pay money they do If they want to "water" down the class so more take it by not grading with difficulty n the end or making the AP test "optional" then they will...and in turn taxpayers pay for. Same with IB. It costs money for the schools to "buy" that curriculum.
  • PurpleTitanPurpleTitan Registered User Posts: 9,627 Senior Member
    @Sybylla: "I assume that no AP is really a college level class, but only the parents of kids who don't do APs seem to think they ARE."

    Why are you making that assumption?

    In any case, note that there is no standard for "college-level class" in the US, so it's likely that all AP's are equivalent to some college-level class somewhere. Granted, many may be equivalent to a CC-level class (thus why some of the very top colleges don't give credit for some/all AP's and many, even if they give credit, give a generic credit rather than one mapped to a class they have) while my understanding is that the hardest physics, chemistry, and calc AP's, in total, are as or more difficult than A-levels.
  • SybyllaSybylla Registered User Posts: 711 Member
    edited May 21
    AP and IB needs the great teachers, great teachers might be attracted to the AP/IB because there might be less feral students running the class from the back seats. Self selection into AP and IB is a real thing LOL. The whole point is that your good curriculum might not be pervasive in the backwaters of the USA. AP and IB in public schools means that there is at least an attempt at offering rigour to all students, vs ones who can pay for private schools or access academic charters. In my location, the IB schools are the academically superior schools. Choosing private HS here is not going to be for academic rigour. The privates limit access to APs because they won't get the great scores as confirmation of the ROI of school fees. Publics don't have to justify that.
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