AP Classes Affect Student Stress Levels

For high school students across the country, mental health has been plummeting. McNeil High School has been affected too. High school worries and fears about the future are only some of what students on campus worry about daily. 

In general, high school students are no strangers to high stress levels and most accept that life will become more stressful after sophomore year. Expectations about college are high, academic loads increase and procrastination compounds assignments on themselves. 

“I am slowly altering my mentality to not crucify myself to get a good grade,” junior Jessica Kokel said. “I personally am a perfectionist so I feel a sense of competition for sure.” 

Kokel’s opinion is not unique. Many students agree that while they try to prioritize their well being, the idea of doing well in difficult classes usually wins.

“I think that AP classes inspire competitiveness because of the GPA boost,” junior Truman Arthur said. “Friends of mine have decided to take AP classes because they see other kids doing it and realize that they should make efforts to compete and challenge themselves at school.”

National data agrees. According to the College Board, over the last 10 years, the amount of students who took AP classes and exams spiked by over 65%. This was in part influenced by programs that serve underrepresented areas, but was mainly caused by an increase in student motivation. This can also be seen in the rise of exam pass rates. 

Junior Sarah Patti is taking multiple AP classes, but belongs to the minority when it comes to dropping them. “I need the extra push, which is why I’m taking so many difficult classes,” she said. “I did sacrifice AP US History this year for on-level because I had workload issues in AP World History last year. I know a lot of people would suck it up and just take the class for their class rank, but I’m saving myself this way.”

In Texas high schools, students need to be in the top 6% of their graduating class to automatically qualify for admission to the University of Texas at Austin. Competitive subjects, like Engineering and Business, have a threshold of 3%. For some students, this is a blessing, as top ranked colleges’ acceptance rates are becoming more selective, but for others, it creates a new source of anxiety.

“I’ve overheard people strategizing about others’ class ranks and it’s honestly crazy,” junior Shreeya Bhatnagar said. “Everyone stresses about their grades, but wondering if you’ll beat someone out for the top 6% because you got a 95 on a test and they got a 93, is shocking. Some people don’t understand that they can’t control what others do.”

US History teacher Brittany Bussell tries to factor these developments into her lesson plans. 

“While it’s important that I keep the integrity of my courses, both on-level and AP US History, it’s most important that I assign meaningful work that allows students to practice content and skills,” she said. “If they continue to be provided work for the sake of work then students will not be able to complete assignments in a meaningful way.” 

Students appreciate it when teachers empathize with their stress levels and try to include that into their teaching. 

“It’s not going to solve everything, but having your teachers understand and give extensions is really nice,” said junior Elizabeth Juarez. “School can be difficult but a good support system makes things easier. Unfortunately, individual solutions don’t solve systemic issues and many students don’t have compassionate teachers, so we definitely need change in the school system in order to protect students.”