Sam is a 16-year-old from Montgomery, NJ. She enjoys playing tennis, writing and Community Service. Her favorite subject in school is History.
It’s that time of year again. Students are perusing their course booklets for next, trying to decide what classes to take. Suddenly, eyes fall on the two, familiar, capitalized letters next to the course name…
Many students at my school seem to look at many of the AP and Honors courses that are offered as classes for “nerds” or for “smarter kids.” However, there is much more to this stereotype. AP and Honors courses have actually built an entire culture circulated on obtaining a near flawless GPA that will lead students to the Ivy League college of their choice. Unfortunately, this culture has caused students to create standards, intensify competition, and even breach their integrity. As a student taking one AP and 3 Honors courses, I have investigated into the world of AP and Honors to find out exactly what occurs behind classroom doors.
One of the main aspects of the AP world is the glittering result, the golden ticket to a top college choice. From sophomore year, when AP courses are first available to students, it seems that college is on everyone’s mind. With these high-challenge classes, students strive for perfection to make sure they have a straight-A transcript for Harvard, Princeton, or Yale. However, this mindset can cause insurmountable stress as homework, tests, projects, and other assignments begin to accumulate. In addition, this college obsession creates hard-to-reach standards (i.e. seemingly all-knowing students) to look up to, as well as the warped illusion that if one were to do as well in school as this standard student, then he or she will garner many opportunities for college. This pressure is exacerbated on the students that barely make the requirements to get into an AP or Honors course, as they feel the need to work even harder to get to that standard.
Another dark part of the AP culture is the extreme competition. While it may seem that getting good grades in an AP or Honors course is enough, the real key is finding the latest and most accurate tools from either the College Board or study aids such as Barron’s. Everyone seems to one-up each other, and condescend those who may not use certain websites or books. Some even refuse to lend materials to struggling students with a cold “Do it yourself.” Yet, what’s even stranger about this competition is how teachers can easily play a role. AP and Honors students strive to make as many solid rapports with their teachers as possible, staying after school every week and discussing topics that are more personal than U.S. History or algebra. As a result, teachers respect these students more, and give them higher grades for their participation and appreciation of the subject being studied. Unfortunately, shyer teens who may be extremely knowledgeable on certain topics receive lower grades, mainly for the fact that they do not participate (usually due to being overlooked in favor of the participating student). This leads to resentment towards fellow classmates and furthers the competitive streak in the AP and Honors world.
Yet the most shocking element of AP and Honors life is the prevalence of unethical conduct. It is not uncommon for rumors and allegations to spread about certain students. Making hand signals during a test, plagiarizing, using unauthorized materials, stealing tests, and other grim and outrageous acts become commonplace and passively accepted as the years pass. Students that report these incidents to faculty face social criticism for being a “snitch.” Paradoxically, students who report cheating also face social approval from students that may have not had the courage to report it. Additionally, it can be very tempting when a student is sent material (i.e. tests, outlines or other mediums) that could help them get a higher grade. Even worse is when the student is struggling to get through the course work. However, in an ironic twist, the students that seem to be the most suspected to cheat take the high road and study as hard as they can, or stay after school for additional help.
It may appear that the AP and Honors world can definitely have its downsides when it comes to the college obsession, competition, and ethics. However, students should not be scared away from taking these courses. Rather, by being educated about the inner workings of the AP and Honors culture, incoming AP and Honors students will know what things to expect in these courses and plan ahead on coping and avoidance strategies.