Some perspective on all this Advanced Placement

Column by Michael Alcorn
Posted 7/31/19

Ah, August 1st. That little turn of the calendar brings out so many emotions. Sports fans recognize the dawning of a new football season, and the (in some places far from here) pennant chase part of …

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Some perspective on all this Advanced Placement


Ah, August 1st. That little turn of the calendar brings out so many emotions. Sports fans recognize the dawning of a new football season, and the (in some places far from here) pennant chase part of the baseball season. Outdoorsy people recognize the shortening of the days as the beautiful season of autumn approaches. Car people can’t wait for the new model year to show itself. All the teachers in the community are just opening up their “welcome back” letters, as parents are preparing their end-of-summer celebrations and children are starting to work out their early excuses to be sick.

But, somewhere in this mix, are also students furiously digging through their homework packets from last May, trying to figure out what they should have been doing to prepare for their Advanced Placement (AP) courses for this year. Why? Because they’ve been told and sold the belief that AP classes will get them into the best schools and get them college credits and make them stand out from their peers.

And then I see this: a parent in North Carolina is taking her child on a tour of Duke University, widely considered a “Top School,” perhaps just below the Ivy League. The presentation starts with an admissions director, who tells the parent group, “Please don’t take every AP class your school offers. That won’t help you get in Duke. Make sure you participate in music at your school, or play a sport, or show leadership. We want well-rounded human beings here.”

This seems like it should be a no-brainer, but we’ve lost it along the way somewhere. I took AP classes — two of them. I even earned partial college credit, which, it turns out, made exactly zero difference in my college career. And, there are cases where taking AP seems obvious: if you want to be in AP Calculus as a senior, you pretty much have to be in the advanced placement classes all along the way in math. But, there are now schools who offer more than 20 AP classes for their students to take, starting as early as the freshman year.

Think about that: you’re a 14-year old taking a class that has implications for the rest of your life. Sometimes, two or three such classes. At some schools, the Freshman level AP classes are considered the hardest classes in the school.

Hey, I think I have an idea why so many kids have clinical anxiety!

And, even if you do great as a freshman, get a good score on the test, have it count in whatever way it counts towards college credits … will it really help you in college? Will *anything* you did as a 14-year old stay in your brain long enough to be useful in college? Or, God forbid, the “real world?”

Parents, relax. In the next few days, you will be registering your kids for high school, and there’s going to be a temptation to “track” them right away into as much Advanced work as you can. Stop it. High school is a huge adjustment, and we don’t need to compound the problem with all the pressure of AP. With the exception I noted above, there is not a single AP class that your kid won’t be able to take as an 18-year old — once they’ve figured a few things out — if they miss a few extra APs along the way.

Instead, encourage them to sing, or act, or play sports, or do student government. They’ll learn more about themselves there, so they’ll make smarter choices as an 18-year old, and — at the same time — make themselves more attractive to great schools, if that’s the direction they go in.

Advanced Placement is good; too much of it is nothing more than an ego thing — for students, for parents, and you better believe also for schools. And that’s not a good place to be making decisions from.

Michael Alcorn is a teacher and writer who lives in Arvada with his wife and three children. His new novel, “Charon’s Blade,” is available at, on Kindle, or through” His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media.


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