Advanced Classes Challenge and Push Students

By Joseph Kratz, Editor-in-Chief

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As the competition for acceptance to the United States’ top colleges and universities becomes increasingly steep, the prevalence of students taking College Board Advanced Placement (AP) classes has increased rapidly, and schools’ Departments of Student Services, consisting of counselors and various student support staff, are adapting to fit the changing needs of the students.

Alongside International Baccalaureate classes, Advanced Placement classes allow students to take college-caliber classes within the confines of an American high school experience. Classes like AP World History expand a semester-long college World History class into a year-long high school class. The AP classes offered by the College Board range from AP Macroeconomics and Microeconomics to AP Art History and AP Music Theory.

The inclusion of AP courses presents new challenges for Student Services. Counselors are tasked with creating and balancing extremely complex course schedules, while also providing assistance for the numerous students seeking mental health support.

The choice to offer an AP course relies on two key factors: student interest and enrollment, and teacher interest and availability. If there are not enough students enrolling in an AP class — or if there is no instructor to teach it — the school cannot offer that AP course.

According to Ms. Jessica Grenfell, Director of Student Services, decisions about class offerings, including AP course offerings, have already begun. “We’re having conversations with assistant principals and department chairs, and maybe an individual teacher who expresses interest in teaching a particular class.”

Student enrollment also weighs heavily in the decision-making process. “One example is AP Lit. We’ve offered it and had low enrollment over the past couple years,” said Ms. Grenfell, “so now we’re kind of deciding are we even going to put it on the course selection sheet.”

One reason for the low enrollment in some AP classes is not only the extreme rigor, but also the availability of Dual Enrollment (DE) classes, which guarantees college credits through Northern Virginia Community College or other local institutions, like George Mason University.

The importance of these college-caliber classes plays a sizable role in a student’s course selection process. “I thought about what I wanted to be when I grew up, what I wanted to major in in college, what classes I didn’t want to take in college,” Jason Nguyen (11) said. “I knew I was going to take math and physics; I wasn’t sure about history.”

In building students’ schedules, Ms. Grenfell stressed the importance of balance, that includes both stimulating academics and extracurriculars, as well as time for students to be themselves. That balance,” she said, will help students find “the right match.”