Should Your Child Take AP Courses in High School?

I should have probably written this last spring before all of Joey’s friends started signing up for their freshman classes but hey, better late than never. I’m not an expert in scheduling or a guidance counselor but I do have two step-sons in college (Josh and Joel), a high school senior (Andi) and a high school freshman. I have been through the college application and financial aid process with Joel, high school scheduling/AP classes/GPA process with Andi and now it’s Joey’s turn.

With school starting tomorrow, many kids are posting their schedules and asking who has classes with them. Joey is still in Germany ( a post to come soon) but I am discovering that very few kids are in the same classes as Joey. Why might that be?  It is because Joey is not taking early bird or AP classes.



Our high school pushes taking both of those things. AP classes are college level courses that students can take in high school. They do cost extra, but less than what it costs in college. However, you have to get a certain score on the final exam to get the college credit and not all colleges accept those credits. Early bird students take an additional course at 7 a.m., instead of starting their day at 8. That means we have 14-year-old kids taking seven classes and college courses. Neither of my children are morning people so early bird wasn’t even an option in my house. However, taking AP courses was.

Andi had always been a strong student with a good GPA. She was placed in higher level courses and chose to take the AP level classes that were offered. It didn’t go quite as planned her sophomore year. She suddenly found herself struggling in English and history (both AP courses), which had never been an issue before. She wasn’t the only one. Several of her classmates received much lower grades than they were used to and didn’t receive college credit. We were convinced that this was because 10th grade is a difficult year, they hadn’t taken so many AP courses before, etc. So we decided to continue with the AP track her junior year. And found ourselves, like many others, in the same situation. Halfway through her junior year I had wished that we had done things differently.

Some will tell you that colleges want to see that you took AP classes before considering scholarships or admission. This is true to an extent. Competitive colleges (Yale, Harvard, Stanford, etc) want to see that you took these courses and did well. But I will tell you that Joel was accepted to every college he applied for – University of Kentucky, Eastern Kentucky University, Morehead and the University of Louisville – and none of them cared that he didn’t take AP classes or early bird. They wanted to know his GPA and ACT score. That is all that really mattered.

Andi’s high school years would have been a lot less stressful if she would have skipped some of the AP courses. Her GPA would be much higher (it’s not bad) if she would have taken more regular-level high school classes. A higher GPA would mean more opportunities for scholarships. And believe me, you want more opportunities for scholarships.

Andi is going to take AP Spanish her senior year because she plans to minor in Spanish and having the basic level course out of the way will be helpful. But other than that, she is taking regular classes. She will take regular English, math, science, art and computer tech. She will enjoy her senior year and hopefully boost her GPA a little. But I’ll tell you a secret… Colleges are really looking at your GPA as of your junior year because you will apply in the fall of your senior year.

So we decided to take a different approach with Joey. He can take AP classes if he wants but we won’t push it. I would much rather him take classes that challenge him and allow him to focus on a higher GPA than take classes that are going to cause extra stress and might not even transfer to the college he chooses. Since Andi and Joey attend the best school district in the state of Kentucky, even the regular courses are challenging. He is taking PE/Health, Principles of Engineering, Spanish 2, English 1, Alegebra 1 and Intro to Physics. There are no AP classes or early bird on that list but I don’t expect him to be bored.


Joel, Andi & Joey – They are all goofballs but unique in their own way

We all want our kids to succeed but we have to remember that they are 14 to 18 years old. They will be stressed in college as many of them figure out how to pay for undergrad, work at least a part-time job and go to school full-time. Expecting every student to suceed in college courses at the age of 14 is unrealistic. Pushing seven classes on them in addition to school plays, sports teams, homework, circus (my son works with Circus Mojo), part-time jobs and a well-rounded social life is also unrealistic for many.

I know it’s hard to say no to AP and extra courses when the school administrators are pushing so hard to do it all but I suggest that you and your child make the best decision for your student. What’s best for one of your children, might not be best for your other children. I do send big kudos to all the kids who succeed in early bird and AP courses, just remember, it’s not for everyone.



6 thoughts on “Should Your Child Take AP Courses in High School?

  1. As an 8 year former Board member who worked with former Superintendent John Williamson and others to develop increased AP and EB, (John now heads that department internationally for the College Board, which does the SAT and Highlands grads have gone from 29% to 69% earning AP CREDIT) I would say three things:

    1) While AP is a SPECTRUM opportunity, different for each student, it is an opportunity for all and should not be rejected entirely by any. The big thing is to get the student accustomed to putting their best foot forward. Some kids, attending state schools, take to the challenge and enter college as a Sophomore – good for academics and tuition savings. Many private schools, however, may or may not accept AP credits. So think about your student’s destination. Academically, the rigor is always a winning experience, especially at a private school, but you might not save on that inflated tuition.

    2) At the opposite end, students might only take one or two courses later at high school. Even if they fail to earn AP credit, AP RIGOR / EXPERIENCE is always helpful in getting students ready for college, as much as they can handle. Yes, GPA and ACT are key, but GPA is weighted for more challenging courses and ACT will be higher if AP experience is included in your student’s education AND if you/they invest time, effort and money in something like TorchPrep test coaching. You student will not be Valedictorian at Highland by taking a bunny schedule.

    3) In sending your student to Highlands, you have an exceptional opportunity to encourage personal best potential or not. High School is a once in a lifetime experience. One time to be a kid, but also one time to train the mind, to instill discipline that will be indispensable tools for success in college and beyond in life. Some will say embrace or reject sports, activities, AP or EB, all or nothing. Let me say that’s probably the least likely to be best for your student or family, unless your student can, with your support, do it all. Many at Highlands amazingly seem to do it all.

    For most, choices will be made and they absolutely should do all they can, focusing on academics first, then possibly activities. My son chose EB every year, phased into AP, scored very well on the ACT, which gave him a HIGHLANDS rank of around the 40th percentile and a full ride in math & finance at U of L.

    This is the bottom line: If you DO NOT want to challenge your student to achieve personal best, avoid AP & EB and avoid Highlands. Send them almost anywhere else in NKY. They can have a youthful experience, coast through classes, rank higher in their graduating class and struggle in college.

    Alternatively, put academics and achieving personal best first, youthful play second, (the latter will be but a memory after 4 years) and know that college and beyond will include a brighter future because you have cultivated both discipline and your student’s mind.

  2. I got that backwards. It’s early on day one of EB. 🙂 My son ranked in 60th percentile, not 40th percentile, scored high on ACT. And got full ride at U OF L!

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