Ending the AP Race: Bellarmine’s New Policy

Bellarmine recently announced that it has decided to institute a recommended limit to advanced placement and honors courses. Although not a hard limit on AP courses, it is a firm recommendation to cut down on the number of AP courses taken to three every semester. Coming into effect next year, the policy is the culmination of concerns by teachers and counselors over the student work load. Specifically, there have been concerns over students overextending, taking APs in courses they do not care about.

“What we’re seeing is what I call trophy hunting: students taking AP or honors classes in areas that they’re not interested in or passionate about, and then they crash and burn,” Mrs. Murphy, director of college counseling, says on the reasoning behind an AP limitation. For her and many other faculty members, there are two big dangers behind overloading on APs: “flat reading,” or memorizing the material, and then immediately discarding it afterwards, and missing sleep and leisure time.

“Colleges see kids who are not successful in overloading on AP and Honors courses all the time,” Mrs. Murphy says, “They also see students who ‘read flat,’ who do the work but have no clue how to put it into context, because they’ve had no time to reflect on it or what they really want to learn. They’ve been trophy hunting, collecting APs, and it’s ridiculous.” For Mrs. Murphy, the workload of an AP-heavy curriculum only encourages this strategy, as there is simply too much material to connect and too little time to truly learn each course in depth. In addition, many argue that the workload has also cut into time that students should have to themselves.

“Students need to get at least eight hours, or nine hours, of sleep to be functional thirty-year-olds when they’re thirty,” Mrs. Murphy says, “You need to find joy in your life and feel not like you’re a drudge.” For Mrs. Murphy and many other faculty, the push for a less AP-heavy curriculum has everything to do with giving time back to students and removing the stress of the AP race, as well as allowing students to focus on areas they truly feel passionate about, without feeling like they’re missing out on courses to put on their college applications.

“It’s all coming from wanting students to do well,” Mrs. Murphy says, “To love what they learn and to go to the place that’s the best place for them, yet also to run, to swim, to write in the paper, and to sing in the choir: to find joy in their lives.”

The change in the curriculum promises to give freedom back to students to co-curriculars and free time, yet one of the most prominent questions surrounding the recommendation is how it will impact college admissions. Yet, the college counselors have also been working hard to ensure that there will be no change to how colleges evaluate Bellarmine students.

“Colleges won’t look at a student differently based on a school policy that isn’t in the student’s control,” Mr. Fleitas, college counselor, states, “As college counselors, we’ll be working hard to make sure the many colleges to which our students apply are updated about the new policy.” The college counseling department plans to send about three hundred letters in April to various colleges detailing the change in the curriculum, and many other schools around the country have taken similar, or more drastic, actions towards AP classes without issues.

“Bells can rest easy that they’ll still be admitted to great colleges,” Mr. Fleitas says, “but without the pressure to participate in a stressful AP arms race.” The decision to have a recommended limit to AP programs promises to reduce student stress without damaging admission chances, and has been considered for a long time, by parents, teachers, and faculty alike.

“I’ve been here twelve years, and we’ve always talked about this,” Mrs. Murphy says, “I think that the group that was convened last year was more serious about this, and I think the time is right to do it.”