Friday, July 8, 2016

Beyond APs

Like it or not, Advanced Placement high school classes are the new norm for college-bound students. Many believe that without a majority of AP classes on their transcript, they won't be competitive for highly selective colleges. Whether or not this is true, each year more and more kids take on more and more AP classes, often assuming workloads that cost them sleep and sanity.

AP classes are awesome. The offer academic rigor and the opportunity to study with a highly trained teacher alongside highly motivated and sharp peers. If you score a 3 or above on the AP test at the culmination of the course, you can earn college credit and, assuming a score of 5, demonstrate that you are more prepared the 80-90% of your classmates. When everyone is taking APs, are they still the best way to distinguish yourself and demonstrate that you are exceptionally well prepared to take on the challenges of college? What are the alternatives?

Community college courses are often overlooked by students, but they can be an excellent way to deepen your learning, demonstrate your initiative and intellectual curiosity, earn transferable college credit, and show that you have the skills and maturity to succeed in a college environment rather than just a high school classroom. With the approval of a high school administrator, almost every high school kid is able to register and take community college classes either to explore a personal interest or to get a head start on fulfilling lower-division college requirements. They are also a great option for kids who can't fit all of the high school classes they want to take into their schedule, who want to spread out their workload by taking courses over the summer, or who need to make up high school classes where they earned low grades or fulfill requirements they missed.

MOOCs (massive open online courses) are also an exciting opportunity for kids to learn new subjects beyond those offered by a traditional high school and to experience firsthand an actual course at Stanford, MIT, UC Berkeley, and many other universities. Designed to provide unlimited participation and open access to learning via the Web, MOOCs provide the chance to explore a vast array of subjects. In some cases, they can be taken for credit or a student can receive a certificate acknowledging course completion. But simply enrolling in and completing a course in a subject like Data Science (Johns Hopkins), Buddhism and Modern Psychology (Princeton), or Social Media Marketing (Northwestern) can show colleges that you are intellectually curious, self-motivated,and capable of taking on the rigors of a top university (in the often even more challenging virtual environment). You can check out the possibilities at Coursera, edX, and Udacity.

With so many ways to take your learning beyond the high school classroom, there's no reason to limit your learning to the AP curriculum. Take advantage of the AP classes that are right for you, but open your mind to the world of opportunities that are there for the taking.

Need help finding enriching learning experiences that don't involve an AP exam? Get in touch. 

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