About six years ago, Boston Latin School began limiting the number of AP classes students could take to three a year. “Kids were overdoing it,” says Jim Montague, director of guidance. “We’re protecting kids from themselves.” Yet Latin this year added world history, its 24th AP course. The maximum a school can offer is 34.
At Newton North, the administration also now recommends that students take no more than three AP or honors classes a year, but it’s been hard to make the recommendation stick, says MacGowan.
Lexington’s guidance counselors offer similar advice to their students, but not all of them are listening. “They really want to tone it down in Lexington. They want to say, ‘Take less and chill,’ ” Huang says of initiatives like the no-homework rule. “But I feel like students just go out there and challenge themselves.”
She hopes her AP classes, plus everything else she has done — including playing percussion in the band and belonging to a few clubs — will help her get into her top college pick, but for now she’s focused on doing well in all her courses.
Her mother, a chemist, worries about the stress her daughter and her classmates are under, but sees it as an unfortunately necessary part of the routine today. “I hope Claire could enjoy the school life more, but I’m not sure,” Sui says. “So many APs, the college application process.”
Still, she’s encouraging her son, a Lexington freshman, to follow in his sister’s footsteps, even though his schedule is looking to be even more densely packed. After all, he plays soccer.
“Claire is OK. She doesn’t do sports,” Sui says. “That helps her a little bit.”
HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH?
Tips from college admissions experts
Six AP classes overall is ample to prepare a student well for college, says the College Board’s Trevor Packer. Packer, who bases that number on one researcher’s conclusion, says, “I don’t like it when I hear that a student is choosing a 10th AP course instead of doing an extracurricular activity.”
Balance matters, says Margit A. Dahl, director of undergraduate admissions at Yale — which accepted just 2,043 of 28,997 applicants for its newest freshman class. On top of that, she wants to see that applicants have chosen the most challenging route available in their schools.
Lee Coffin, Tufts’ dean of undergraduate admissions, suggests using the selection of AP classes to create what he calls an “intellectual fingerprint.” Students who are passionate about history, for instance, can take AP history to explore the subject and have success in the course documented on their record.
“It’s things in moderation,” says Kevin Kelly, director of admissions at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. “My rule of thumb here is to get good grades in good courses.”
15 Massachusetts Public Schools With The Highest Percentage of Their Upperclassmen Enrolled in AP Courses (2011-2012):
BOSTON LATIN SCHOOL (92.7%)
MATCH PUBLIC CHARTER (86.9%)
ACADEMY OF THE PACIFIC RIM CHARTER (81%)
BOSTON COLLEGIATE CHARTER (69.4%)
JOHN D. O’BRYANT SCHOOL OF MATHEMATICS & SCIENCE (67.4%)
WESTON HIGH (66%)
HOPKINTON HIGH (64.6%)
NORTHAMPTON HIGH (62.3%)
EDWARD M. KENNEDY ACADEMY (61.6%)
MILTON HIGH (61.3%)
BELMONT HIGH (60.8%)
LEXINGTON HIGH (59.4%)
MASHPEE HIGH (59%)
SALEM ACADEMY CHARTER (58.8%)
BOSTON LATIN ACADEMY (58.4%)
Linda K. Wertheimer, a former Globe education editor, is a freelance writer and teaches journalism at Boston University. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.