Many people, no matter which level class they start off with in freshman year – CP2, CP1, or Honors, tend to feel pushed toward higher level classes, especially as they approach their senior year.
Many people say that junior year is the hardest year of high school, because so many people take so many hard classes, and have to balance the college search and taking their SAT/ACTs on top of that. And if you decide to continue on the path towards more and more advanced classes, senior year becomes an obstacle course as well, with the stress of needing to finish college applications and get them turned in by a certain date. So why do so many students up their coursework drastically for these two years?
The first reason is simple, and a little sad. Many students are encouraged to go up a level, or a few levels, in junior year, because it will look better on college applications. Before junior year, many students don’t think about college at all, and crossing the line from underclassman to upperclassman often comes with all the stress of worrying about getting into college, at least for anyone who plans on going to college.
While I think that it is good for students to challenge themselves with Honors and AP curriculum, I think that should also be done because the student is passionate about the subject, not just because it checks a box, and they heard it was the easiest Honors/AP class.
The second reason for students being pushed towards higher level classes is less obvious, but it is more
effective. While a school counselor might convince a CP1 student to take one Honors class junior year, that is not what will create the flooding of students in all AP classes senior year. When many enter high school, they are hesitant to take too many Honors classes, only to quickly realize that not only is there a large disparity between what they learn in the two classes, but also between what the teachers expect of the students, and how motivated the students are.
Also what may come as a culture shock is that the other students realized this, and so all Honors students had a sort of unspoken ‘club’ of other Honors students. If you are in CP classes, then you can be almost looked down upon. None of this is spoken, of course, but nevertheless, it peer pressures countless students to take more high level classes.
Sophomore year the ‘club’ of elite students gets worse. AP becomes the new Honors. Junior year anyone taking less than two AP classes is severely distanced from the ‘club,’ looked down on for only taking one AP. This year I’m in five AP classes. I am solidly in the ‘club,’ which has officially turned into the National Honors Society, but are five AP classes absolutely necessary?
Of course not. But it feels as though everyone does it. Does it create an environment where taking more AP classes somehow improves your worth as a person and a student? Yes.
I’m not trying to say that there is something inherently wrong with the Honors/AP classes and how they are run, but I do think that students are often pressured into taking classes that they otherwise wouldn’t if they were on their own isolated island.
On one hand, it is great that students challenge themselves to become better and try harder classes, but on the other, it can quickly become a toxic cycle of proving your self-worth in terms of class level, which not only breeds disdain and condescension towards lower level classes, but also a sense that you as a person are being measured and judged merely on the basis of how many high level classes you can take and still get an A.