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MIT student blogger Jessie L. '07

Some comments on topics of interest by Jessie L. '07

So, usually I stay away from College Confidential, as it has a way of making me despair of the state of humanity on the rare occasions that I do read it. Every so often, though, I follow Ben‘s link to his CC comments, just to see what’s happening in the exciting world of high schoolers and their parents being frantic about their stats and complaining about schools’ real or imaginary affirmative action policies.

There was a thread last month, in the Parents’ Forum, which was discussing Marilee Jones’ article about the admissions process and the pressures put on students. It was quite a long thread which went on many different tangents.

One of these tangents was about AP classes and the pressure to take them. I was surprised – and interested – at some of the comments (each of the paragraphs below is a different quote – they’re not all part of the same statement).

What would I like to see: inasmuch as Stanford says their students present an average of 5 AP, why not go a step farther. TELL students that the school will only look at the BEST 4 AP and will discard ALL the remaining from the file. Want to see students taking 3 SAT and no more: penalize students after the 3 tests by applying a dimninishing scale or discarding any tests after the 4th one. Why would this be so hard … after all they put limitations on letters of recommendations, so why not limit AP to a REASONABLE level. And, no matter if this offends someone with 10-15 AP, such a number is RIDICULOUS.

And very specifically the head of the UC system’s admissions office stated that they “like to see” (read: you better do it) “17 semesters of AP” by graduation. That year, the school board voted to open up many more AP classes and now, to remain competitive in context, the kids have 4 and 5 AP classes on their schedules.

Now, go ahead nd tell any high schoolers who has Ivy League ambitions that he or she should not worry about AP before HS even start

Now, I completely agree that it should not be a competition to see who takes the most AP tests. I am, however, disturbed that anyone would advocate penalizing a child who took many AP tests, or assume that a child who did so only did so because of pressure from elite colleges. Or arrange scheduling so that it was impossible for students to take more than 2 or 3 AP classes a year, as some advocated. Not to mention, I am shocked that the UC system would pressure high schools to pressure students to take more AP classes…I suppose, given context like this, I can understand where some of the negative comments about APs come from.

10-15 APs is not a ridiculous number. Neither is 2-3. Or any number, really. It all depends on the kid. I had 14 (by year, this broke down to 1-3-8-2) and I had a life outside classwork. The thing is, I’m not some (using the provided example) California kid who was told in 8th grade that I needed to take five million AP classes to get into an in-state school. Believe it or not, AP mania hasn’t hit everywhere. In Kentucky, taking any AP classes is considered impressive, and not at all expected. You can get a special “Commonwealth Diploma” if you complete the Pre-College Curriculum and take four AP classes and three AP tests in different subject distributions, regardless of score. Of the thousands and thousands of Kentucky high school grads each year, only 9000 have received this special diploma since 1987. The point of the program is not to pile on pressure for the benefit of a high-caliber state university system, it’s to encourage students to attempt college-level work in a state where for many, going to any college is seen as an impossible dream.

I took AP classes because they were good classes, fun classes. They were mostly better-taught. I took AP French freshman year because French 3 was too easy. I took AP Art History because it was a more interesting way to get my county-required humanities credit than the school’s lackluster general humanities classes. I took AP US Gov & Politics out of love for the subject matter. I didn’t take AP Bio, though I could have done so, because I didn’t like the way it was taught. There were fun non-AP classes too. My favorite science class was a non-AP bio/biotech class, and I took dual credit creative writing, intro music theory, special topics in computer science, and a grad-level class in medieval French lit at U of L. But AP classes were the easiest way to access fun, exciting work with good teachers, and my school offered a lot of them, so I took them, fighting admins who told me I was biting off more than I could chew.

Why, why, would you want to penalize a student for taking advantage of the challenging opportunities offered them? Rein in the UC system, the “adcoms” who prize APs at the expense of everything else, the parents who hound their kids to the point where parent and child have both lost perspective, the marketers who push all this. Don’t rein in the kids.

Another tangent had to do with summer academic programs. There appear to be two main schools of thought regarding this. One is “Let the kids be kids and enjoy their summers, rather than having them pad their resumes with math camp.” The other is “For the kids who do these summer programs, this sort of activity is fun, and if a kid doesn’t think it’s fun, they don’t belong at an elite school anyway.” I disagree with both of these positions, at least to some extent.

I never did any summer academic camps or special programs, though I qualified for many. My parents are divorced and live over 400 miles apart, and to me, summer was time for spending with Dad. Going to the Duke Talent Search’s several-week programs, or other residential summer programs, would have meant several weeks less of time spent with him, and I was not willing to do that.

This didn’t mean that I did nothing during my summers. I read books. Lots and lots of books. Some people have freakish talents, and mine is speed reading (which helped with all those AP classes); I could sometimes go through three paperbacks in a day if I felt like it and have time left over to play. I pursued hobbies such as the study of civil liberties in constitutional law, using old law textbooks. I ran 45 miles a week to get in shape for cross-country. I swam and dove on summer league teams. I learned how to judge springboard diving from watching my dad, who took up judging as a hobby when I started diving, and asking him questions, and after I turned 15 I became certified to do it myself and volunteered at our meets.

I also watched TV, lounged around, took walks, and wandered around the backyard making up stories while tossing a tennis ball against the side of the house and catching it.

In other words, I wasn’t productive all the time, nor was I doing, say, RSI. And I certainly wasn’t thinking about how it would all look on a college application. But I was doing lots of things, fun things. If math camp is your idea of fun, more power to you. If it’s not, fine. What makes it either “fun” or “resume-padding” (or both), is whether you’re doing it because you wanted to, or because you wanted to look impressive.

6 responses to “Some comments on topics of interest”

  1. I think I may have mentioned this before, on your previous AP-based entry, but I’m jealous. My school offers only three AP courses (Eng. Lit. & Comp, Calc AB, and US History), two of which I have taken or currently am taking. The third I would have taken had it not had a history of horrid scheduling conflicts. The fact that some school expect more AP credits than my school even offers makes me very, very angry. I agree that AP classes should be taken for fun, and that penalizing a student, either for “too few” or “too many” is just absurd. Honestly, though, all I can think of to tell these people is to grow up.

    As for summer activites, I do music camps (And read. Voraciously.). I have absolutely no aspirations to become a professional musician, though I will continue playing after HS, but I find music quite enjoyable. I’m not saying I wouldn’t do something scientific if there were such options within a feasible distance, but summer is for relaxation, not supplemental academics.

    That’s my two bits. Take it anywhere but out of context.

  2. dan says:

    You’re inspirational in many ways.

  3. Kathleen says:

    45 miles a week…one word—-woah

  4. Wow Jessie, this has quite a bit to do with our conversation last week! By the way, I really enjoyed the talk we had, it gave me a much more in depth view of what life at MIT is actually (emphasis on the word actually) like. But there are a few things about your entry that I think need noting. First off, 45 miles a week. I am still amazed…. Secondly, 8 AP classes junior year. Hmm. Did you sleep? That was certainly a brave thing to do. Personally, some of my favorite classes were Sophomore Biology and Sophomore English. But after getting to junior year and being exposed to the wide array of AP classes available, and teachers who were constantly talked about and praised, I couldn’t resist. I jumped on the bandwagon and just enjoyed the ride. Of course, there have been a few bumps in the road (AP Biology, why do all the chapters have to be 30 pages long in size 2 font!?) But quite a bit of the time, the classes were more interesting than the non-AP classes that friends would often describe to me. I

  5. Carla says:

    I agree with Rhiannon Carr, you were really lucky to have all those AP classes at your school. I live in Venezuela an here AP classes don’t exist… you can’t even chose classes that actually interest you, so you have to take drawing and art even though you may never use it afterwards… every one takes the same classes until the last 2 years of school when you can take a scientific or a humanistic path, but even then everyone takes same level classes, even though you may be bored to death in them… also about the summers I totally agree that one should only do things because you like them, also sometimes it can be impossible to go to scientific summer camps in my country basically because they do not exist, and I can’t go to the ones in US because I finish classes in July and all programs have started by then… I know that MIT considers your background and possibilities in the admission, but I am worried that my chances at other universities may be impaired by this kind of things… what do you think?

  6. Anonymous says:

    Nice Post. Yeh I get you about the summer programs… i was at mites this summer and living alongside mites and rsi kids inside of simmons…i met a lot of interesting people. Most kids were there because their idea of fun was extending their math and science knowledge while others liked researched.

    Unfortunately, there were those who simply hated being at MIT for the summer and were there for the sole purpose of padding their resume in order to increase their chances of getting into MIT, or God forbid, Harvard.

    But oh well…everyone has different ways of living, and if some students are driven to take a million AP classes in school, do a million activities, and spend summers at ivys simply for the purpose of getting into a top college, then let it be. Meanwhile, those kids are missing out on life while the rest of the kids are here to learn for learning sake and enjoying life.