Advanced Placement or Additional Pressure: The Culture Surrounding AP Classes at Holderness

Imagine this: you’re nearing the end of your Freshman year at Holderness sitting with your advisor planning out what classes you want to take for the next three years. You feel like in order to be “good enough” for the high-level college you aspire to attend you have to take as many AP classes as possible. You’re packing a heavy course load, and you’re feeling like you have to take all the hard classes or you won’t even be going to college. I know I had this experience at the end of last year, and according to a recent survey, 47.6% of other Holderness students have also felt this way.

There is a culture that surrounds taking AP classes at Holderness. Many students feel pressured to take these classes for various reasons, some being parents, peer pressure, and the feeling that they are either not good enough if they don’t or are missing out. I think that most of the pressure to take AP classes stems from the need to get into a good college, but according to Mr. Barton, our college counselor, taking AP classes is only as impressive to colleges as a student’s grades.


Many of the students who felt pressured to take AP classes felt so because of things they had heard from peers, parents, or teachers. They said things such as:


My parents pressure me, and I feel like I’m not good enough if I don’t.  I’m not the smart kid that everyone sees if I don’t.”


“I feel like there is a stigma of AP classes that measures your intelligence by the number of APs you’re taking. This is not true, and it should be broken.”


“I think if you don’t take an AP as a junior you could be considered less smart.”


The responses from students who do not feel pressure to take AP classes also seemed to acknowledge this pressure. Their responses seemed to acknowledge that although they were not pressured, they could understand its source:


I do not feel pressured by students or teachers to take AP classes, but I gather determination from myself. I want to challenge my abilities and learn a lot, and taking these classes will really help me get into a good college.”

“I did not feel pressured, but I do feel that it is strongly encouraged.”

“I wouldn’t say I’m pressured but at Holderness they want you to be challenged.”


After reading these responses from fellow students, the question remains, how do we alter the perception of AP classes? Dr. Furlonge says that we need to change the language. She thinks that we need to acknowledge that there are classes above the AP level and we need to educate students on the fact that a student’s intelligence does not ride on the number of AP classes they take.