Why Advanced Placement is catching on with smart kids and ambitious parents
Before she’d set foot on campus, Jacqueline Dohaney already had two university courses under her belt. Like most students at her Williamstown, Mass., high school, she didn’t think twice about taking her school’s Advanced Placement course in European history. Dohaney loved the subject, so when it was offered in Grade 12, she enrolled. But when she moved to Canada to study geology at Ottawa’s Carleton University, the intensive course helped her in ways she’d never anticipated.
“Advanced Placement classes saved my life,” says Dohaney. “But in high school, I didn’t have any concept of how they would help me later on.”
Advanced Placement courses, or AP, allow students to do university-level work while still in high school. The program has long been popular with American students and parents—and the trend is catching on in Canada. Participating high schools offer the courses as part of the regular curriculum, with the program generally open to only the most capable students. Courses are capped by a standardized, year-end exam, administered by the New York-based College Board, which oversees AP. Exam results, on a five-point scale, are often used by colleges and universities in the U.S. and Britain to make admissions decisions: the AP credential is seen as proof that you are a superior student. What’s more, AP courses can earn students university-level credits, reducing the number of classes needed to complete a degree.
Now a master’s student in geological sciences at the University of British Columbia, Dohaney was surprised when Carleton recognized her AP course in European history. The school gave her two university transfer credits, which meant that for two semesters, she took four classes instead of five. “I don’t care what discipline you’re in. Having one or two fewer courses in a semester can make a really huge difference,” she says.
Dohaney isn’t the only one seeing the program’s perks. Over the last two decades, the number of Canadian high schools offering AP has ballooned from one to 510. Last year, nearly 14,000 Canadian students were enrolled, writing more than 20,000 AP exams. Enrolment is especially strong in British Columbia and Alberta, as provincial ministries and high schools jump on the program, hoping it will give their students an edge.
George Ewonus, director of Advanced Placement in Canada, says he is as amazed as anyone at what he describes as the “astonishing” growth of the program. The College Board offers 34 AP subjects, from the most popular—calculus, English, and literature—to the slightly more obscure, such as environmental science, human geography and studio art. (See the complete list of AP subjects here.) More than 4,000 colleges and universities around the world recognize all or some AP credits as equivalent to a first-year-level class, though whether and when a university will give a transfer credit varies.
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