Wellness Center cushions blow
By Max Anders and Jen Krasner of the Wellness Center
We’re biased. We know that. But here in the Wellness Center, we see many of the consequences of Lowell’s stressful culture. Lack of sleep, anxiety, headaches, unhealthy eating habits, depression and suicidal ideation are some of the issues exacerbated among students by the current situation at Lowell. We feel that the stress, pressure and competition our students face must be addressed in a meaningful way.
But as we envision a new atmosphere, many questions are still left unanswered: are students taking care of themselves? Are they sleeping enough, eating healthily, enjoying their youth? Are students extracting meaning from their education? Are they creating a transcript filled to the brim solely to get into college, or are they getting an education that enables them to be successful in their futures with regards to college, career and relationships?
The recent discussion of limiting Advanced Placement (AP) courses has caused the Wellness Center staff to think a lot about what our world would look like without them. Many students believe that the more AP courses they take, the better their chances will be of getting into their dream school. Last year, Stanford University did not accept a single Lowell senior. Rumors spread that Stanford saw us as an “AP factory,” filled with students taking as many courses as possible just to beef up their high school transcripts. If the number of APs students took did not seriously affect college admission, would they still take as many?
We don’t like the idea of limiting our students. We understand that there are students here who take a lot of APs and maintain a strong GPA. But are they sleeping? Feeling passionate about what they are learning? If so, that’s wonderful. If not, what can be done to improve this?
As excited as we are about the recent discussion of limiting APs, we don’t want to oversimplify things by solely blaming APs. The factors that contribute to our present situation are complex. Creating a more balanced and healthy Lowell will no doubt include addressing the AP issue, but entails consideration of factors like our schedule, teacher office hours and academic honesty. It’s going to be a long road, but the Wellness Center is inspired by those students who are speaking out and we are ready to help in any way we can.
Alumna reflects on AP perks
By Alumunus Johanna Bleecker, Class of 2007
There is no question that my Advanced Placement credits helped me in my college career. But piling them on during high school definitely wasn’t the answer. During my Lowell career, I took a total of seven APs, which meant I was eligible to enter college a year ahead in credits. These credits did ultimately benefit me, but not as much as I imagined they would.
My AP classes covered a broad range of subjects, but only a couple ended up directly benefitting my major. For the science APs that went towards my environmental major, I am very grateful. As the excess APs ended up as elective credits, and after switching majors, I ended up with too many elective credits. I even had to apply for an extension in order to be able to finish my degree — which still took me four years to complete in the end.
I don’t regret any of the APs I took though it was very stressful at times, but looking back with 20/20 hindsight, I didn’t need all those APs — not even close. I understand the motivation to take as many APs as you can, as doing so can definitely save you money and give you a leg up in university. But APs aren’t guaranteed to do so, and taxing yourself too much in high school due to anxiety over the future can lead to a lot of regret — either from taking on too much and ending up with lower grades, or just from giving up parts of the amazing high school experience Lowell can offer.
Limiting APs would ideally not be necessary if students themselves would be rational about what courses they can handle and what will be necessary in the future. But in high school, the future is so hazy that it’s tempting to pack in everything to prepare for what may come.
I would ultimately say that I don’t support limiting the number of APs by way of an outright cap, but it’s important to help students keep some perspective on what’s achievable and necessary. One solution is to put a greater emphasis on counseling students towards manageable course loads, in an attempt to combat the college-anxiety fervor that unfortunately tends to be a fact of Lowell life. Everyone deserves the right to customize their schedule to match what they can handle, but the lack of an outright cap doesn’t mean that students should fill up their schedule with college-level classes — it just won’t be worth it in the end.
Student advocates cap
By Nancy Wu
High school curricula has evolved drastically in the past decade. Nowadays, students are pressured to take challenging courses, particularly Advanced Placement classes, as colleges look for the brightest students who can face the daunting task of excelling in such classes. Allegedly, Lowell has been criticized recently by Stanford, who labeled Lowell as an “AP factory.” Whether or not this is the perception, we should be concerned—permitting students to take multiple AP classes regardless of a student’s capability of handling college level courses can be detrimental to students’ welfare.
College admissions committees want to see students challenge themselves with as many tough courses as possible, which spurs a students’ desire to take as many AP classes as possible. A school limit on the number of AP courses a student can take may change their mindset of taking APs just for the sake of appealing to colleges. True, some students who take six APs can handle the stress and work load, but what about the overstressed students who cannot handle as many APs, but take just as many to keep up with their overachieving peers? These students are left to fend for themselves in the battlefield of academics.
For students who take the appropriate number of AP classes for their personal well-being, applying to college is harder because they are compared to their competitive peers. This intensifies the already tense atmosphere between students during the college application process. An additional benefit to the cap is that if students are limited to taking four APs, they could potentially prioritize the classes they actually need and not be driven to sign up for excess APs just to carve more academic notches on their transcripts.
With a cap in place, come college application season, the admission offices would not scold students who do not take advantage of the plethora of AP classes offered but would take into account the students’ maximized potential within the AP cap. Taking two AP classes when there is a limit of three would make a better impression on admissions offices than taking two in a school where some students load up with five or six.
With a controlled number of AP classes, students will be encourage to study their courses more in-depth, rather than to cram information the night before a test due to an overloaded schedule and limited time. Fully grasping the concepts of a subject will benefit the student in ways that short-term knowledge of several different subjects never will.
Student urges choice
By Grace Sun
Science: 5; Math: 4; Social Sciences: 8; English: 7; Languages: 5; Visual & Performing Arts: 2 = 31 APs.
Lowell is renowned for its rigorous curriculum and the rich selection of 31 Advanced Placement courses out of the 37 offered by the College Board. Although APs involve demanding tests, they encourage students to succeed in higher education. Taking AP courses not only allows students to delve deeper into topics that regular classes cover superficially, but they significantly cushion the jump from high school to college. Setting a limit to the number of APs each student can take will hinder education opportunities while putting students at a disadvantage when preparing for college.
Limiting the number of APs eradicates the chance for outstanding students to stand out during the college admissions process, hence the advantage of APs to demonstrate a student’s capability is lost. When college administrators review applications, they look to see how well students take advantage of the courses the school provides.
According to the College Board’s 5th Annual Report to the Nation, California supplement, there was a 7.2 percent increase in number of AP’s taken between 2005 and 2006. The increasing number of students attempting AP exams in California means more competition for our school against other California high schools when applying to the University of California colleges. Students at other rigorous high schools in California, such as Oxford Academy in Cypress and Henry M. Gunn High School in Palo Alto, take an average of more than five AP exams, much like Lowell students. Limiting the number of APs puts us at a disadvantage when our transcripts are judged against applicants from schools who do not limit students’ AP opportunities.
The Lowell administration should not impose an AP cap. Doing so may restrict our access to the prestigious education the school boasts. Not all students can balance a heavy number of AP classes, but this should not prevent those who can from excelling. If an AP cap must be implemented, students who consistently take four or five APs while maintaining a healthy lifestyle should be allowed to request an extended number of AP classes similar to the school’s system to allow a seventh class.
These are two solutions. But the AP cap decision would directly affect many students – students took 3,680 AP tests last year – so they should be able to voice their opinions about this matter through a school-wide survey of the student body.
Imposing a cap for APs will not only strip our freedom to choose, but also Lowell’s prestigious academic spirit will erode.
A version of this article first appeared in the Jan. 28, 2011 print edition of The Lowell.
Illustrations by Julian Stickley and Monica Zhang