Should I/my child take AP Chem or Creative Writing next semester?

Posted on April 10th, 2018 to College Admission by

This kind of question I get asked a lot by students and families. Both are trying to make the perfect course selection, knowing that it can have an impact on one’s candidacy in the admission process. But before I answer the question, we must first delve into the fact that this is a loaded question.

On the surface it seems innocent enough. This question requires me to ask a lot of follow up questions:

  • Does you/your child want to take AP Chem?
  • Are you/your child interested in Chemistry?
  • Have you talked with teachers/guidance counselor/adviser about taking an AP level course?
  • What other courses are you/your child planning to take next year?

OK, I think you get the idea. It’s a loaded question because its simplicity lacks context. You can probably start to see that I need more information in order to provide a meaningful answer. Having a clearer sense of the student’s interests, preparation, goals, and anticipated academic load will bring further clarity as to whether or not taking a more rigorous course makes sense. Often the undertone I hear in this question is: “Evan, what’s gonna get me/my kid into (the best) college.”

It’s true colleges are looking for students who have taken a rigorous course load and performed well. It’s also true that they know that isn’t reality for every student. They also look for students who have rigorously pursued their academic interests. Its a balance between ensuring a student is prepared for the rigors of college while at the same time wanting to see a student is pursuing subjects they love to learn about.

When looking at this example, there are several things to consider. Certainly the AP class is going to carry a great deal of weight in the admissions process and more importantly in a student’s preparation. Why? Because it’s an Advanced Placement course. This signals a student is taking courses to prepare him/her for college level coursework. With that in mind, if the student has no ambition of ever exploring or pursuing a STEM related major and/or career, it may be unnecessary. Should the student’s true passion, interest, and talent lie within the humanities then the creative writing course will serve him/her far better. In that situation I might encourage the student to see if there were other English/writing options (honors, IB, AP, or dual enrollment).

If a student is interested in exploring chemistry, the sciences, or a STEM related subject then the AP Chemistry course is definitely a good idea. It’s not uncommon for students to feel a little insecure/unsure about taking a highly rigorous course. If s/he is concerned about the intensity and rigor of the class, then I suggest doing some background research. Go talk to the current AP instructor/teacher or the chair of the department, and see if they will give you a copy of the current syllabus. Take the opportunity to ask the teacher or administrator some pointed questions about the level of challenge and their expectations of students. See if you can connect with students currently taking the class, and ask them about the work load and how they manage it. This little bit of research will be worth the effort, as it will provide the context you lack.

In addition to determining one’s own interests and goals, another great strategy is to do a little long-term planning. In an ideal world, students would sit down a month or two before starting 9th grade and map out the courses they plan to take over the next four years. Creating this 4-year plan can be incredibly helpful in identifying long term goals, ensuring proper preparation, and keeping everyone on the same page. Not sure where to get course information? That’s easy! Look at your school’s student handbook or check with your school counselor. Here’s a simple chart you can use to get started:

Subject 9th grade 10th grade 11th grade 12th grade
Foreign Language
Elective 1
Elective 2

Feel free to modify and expand to fit your needs, but this is the basic idea. Of course we don’t live in an ideal world, so this doesn’t always happen pre-9th grade. Even if you are 11th grade, I suggest still planning out the rest of 11th grade and 12th grade. It’s definitely not too late. Some plan is better than no plan at all. You might find it helps to inform your college search.

All told, with a little reflection, a little research, and a little planning you can figure out whether or not AP Chem or Creative Writing is the course you should take. Students, remember it is about your goals and aspirations. Parents/Guardians, remember it is about your student’s goals and aspirations. Keep the focus there, and the rest will fall into place.

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