It is the end of the school year, and you have to decide what classes you are going to take next year. Your friends are planning to take five AP classes, and you feel  pressured to do the same. 

Since levels of classes are often perceived as the measure of intelligence of an individual, a lot of students in high school experience the social pressure to take hard classes. The same pressure exists at Maclay, where many students take Advanced Honors and AP classes, and the majority of them make similar decisions as their friends in terms of the classes they take due to peer pressure.

“Some of the classes I wanted to take, but other classes I wouldn’t have chosen unless I knew that my peers were taking those classes, and I wanted to be comparable to them,” junior Morgan Conn said.

However, taking AP classes just for the sake of taking them can lead to a negative high school experience.

AP classes involve a substantial amount of work. If you are not interested in the course, you are naturally not going to try your best since the ultimate goal is to get good grades and pass the AP exam, not to pursue your passion. Furthermore, when you are only focused on getting good scores, you are less likely to feel motivated to do well.

“When you’re not excited about something, it’s hard to put your full concentration on that and put that effort in that you really need in order to do well,” upper school biology teacher Ariel Evans said.

Moreover, taking hard classes you are not enthusiastic about prevents students from taking classes that they might be truly interested in. Maclay offers a variety of unique electives such as Personal Finance, Creative Writing and engineering. Electives are good opportunities to explore each student’s talent and develop interests for their future career outside of core classes that they are required to take. However, under pressure to take AP classes, many students instead choose taking academic AP classes as their electives. Seeking an academic pathway can be great, but only prevents you from chasing your dreams if you are not excited about it.

“We [Maclay] have a lot of really cool electives that I think get overlooked because some students are so concerned with whether or not they have AP classes that they don’t get to do the stuff they like,” Evans said.

In addition to discovering passion, elective courses make school more fun. Instead of having a schedule full of challenging academic subjects, having one or two periods of classes that suit your interest is a good way to cope with stress in high school. Nonetheless, students often ignore that way of reducing stress to take as many AP classes as possible.

According to a 2015 study by New York University, 49% of high school students in a survey reported that they experience a great deal of stress everyday. 31% reported feeling somewhat stressed and 26% reported symptoms of depression. The main factors of stress were grades, schoolwork and college preparation. Constant pressure and stress can negatively affect performance at school by decreasing the work efficiency and should be avoided.

Still, taking rigorous classes has multiple advantages, such as helping students impress colleges and earn college credits by taking the AP exam. Starting college with some AP credits can provide flexibility to skip introductory classes, pursue classes of your interest, save tuition fees and graduate early.Nevertheless, AP classes do not guarantee college credits. Though rates vary in different AP classes, the percentage of students passing AP exams usually range from 40% to 80%. In some AP subjects, more than half of the enrolled students fail the exam. Moreover, not all colleges accept AP credits. According to data from 2017, 86% of top colleges in the US restricted awarding AP credits. If you spent a whole year working on AP classes for college credits, this might not be good news for you. AP classes are great opportunities to demonstrate your qualities and challenge yourself, but it is important to ask yourself why you are taking the class and whether or not you actually want to take the class. Engaging in subjects students have passion for provides more enjoyable time in high school and chances to get familiar with their potential future career. Weighing the benefits and downsides of taking AP classes is necessary, and social pressure should not be the main reason for taking the classes.