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High school curriculum arms races
Old 11-15-2007, 01:11 PM   #1
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High school curriculum arms races

A bit of a rant here. Our local public high school announced proudly last week that it now offers 14 AP courses, each of which includes a 5.00 GPA scale and a mandatory $86 (you pay) AP exam. I've missed tae kwon do all week because we're spending three nights at school being "briefed" on next year's advanced placement choices.

During our three-college tour last summer, we learned that AP courses are only a sign that a student seeks challenges and performs well at a harder level. (Student: "Which is better, an "A" in a regular course or a "B" in an AP course?" College admissions staff: "Good question, never heard that one before, ha-ha, we prefer the "A" in the AP course!") Maybe AP students have better critical-thinking & writing skills, too. But none of the colleges would promise that the AP exams or courses would validate any of their curriculum, so there's no guaranteed savings from taking AP exams. Carnegie-Mellon & Renssalaer flatly stated that no English AP validation is permitted in order to properly develop their student's technical-writing skills. Colleges appear to view an AP course as "just" a résumé bullet, still necessary for admission but not a discounted ticket.

Our high school, however, seems to suffer from AP envy. The AP teachers are specially trained & certified (all of the ones we've met are scary good) and AP students are on probation all first semester-- if they don't keep up then they're dropped from the course. At least two of the AP courses screen their students by assigning work the summer before. If you don't meet with the teacher (or swap e-mail) to finish your 100 notecards (primary sources only!) or even write your entire National History Day research paper before the school year formally begins, then you can't take the school's AP history courses.

During Tuesday's AP U.S. History presentation we watched the teacher firmly set the hook in our kid: "You'll need to study 3-4 hours a night! You'll be doing another National History Day project!! You'll read two chapters every week and write a five-page essay on them!!! You'll take four practice AP exams on Saturdays before the real thing!!!! This course is very focused, very intense, and you will have no social life!!!!!"

The first issue is that our 10th-grader is already taking AP World History, trigonometry, advanced English, and advanced chemistry (plus two electives). This is in addition to tae kwon do (3-4 hours/week, prepping for January's black-belt test) and working at the Kumon center (10 hours/week). All of those commitments are teaching valuable skills, not the least of which are hard work and supremely efficient time management. However she's still 15 years old and is much more likely to work on the things she wants to work on, not the things she HAS to work on. She tends to expand her labors to fit all available time, so if the teacher says 3-4 hours a night then by golly that's what our kid will attempt to impose on herself.

Another issue is that the AP history courses seem like extraordinary labor for minimal rewards. She's interested in history but she wants to be an engineer. She's fascinated by challenges (as I was at that age) but she seems to already have plenty of them. It's probably more important to work on engineering topics first and take the minimum required history but it really intimidates her to say "No" to a teacher who's selling promising "You have so much potential, I know you can handle this."

A final issue is the "Sweathog Fear Factor" marketing. Every AP teacher guarantees that their students will be the school's best, brightest, and hottest winners. If you don't take their course then you're doomed to mediocrity and despair among the jocks, druggies, & gang-banger losers. Your IQ will be cut in half, you'll be addicted to reruns of "America's Next Top Model", and you'll be struggling to get into the local community college.

Our kid's summer plans include driver's ed, more Kumon work, and a summer-school building construction course. There's rumors of drafting internships with Alexander & Baldwin. We'd like to visit more Mainland colleges. Somewhere in there she needs to start studying for the SATs. When she turns 16 next fall she wants to ramp Kumon up to 15 hours/week like the other older kids. She blissfully ignorantly fearlessly claims that she'll be able to graft an AP U.S. History paper on top of that summer schedule. (Heaven forbid that she should be able to sleep 9-10 hours a night and go surfing laze around an hour or two each day.) Then in 11th grade she plans to tackle AP U.S. History, AP calculus, advanced physics, AP English, and two electives. Plus all of the stuff she's doing this year as well as that extra Kumon work.

I'm a firm believer in experiential learning and in making as many mistakes as possible while you're still living with your parents. (Especially if you can't bear to be seen in public with them or even talk with such clueless dinosaurs.) Failure, if you survive it, is a great teaching tool. However the crushing burden of three AP courses seems destined to drive her straight over the brink, not realizing that "You can do anything, but you can't do everything."

Last night our kid talked with the teachers and came back out to discuss it with us. Then she'd go back in to the teachers with more questions. After three rounds of shuttle diplomacy we realized that the teachers had no idea that there was any other priority in the world besides their AP courses, let alone any concept of how busy the kid is. Our young hyperachieving Jedi was not going to admit that she could pass up a challenge.

So in desperation we actually (*gasp*) talked to a teacher in our kid's presence. Based on the class' presentation, I started with "It's a bit of a concern to hear your smiling students tell us that you're a Dementor whose AP U.S. History course sucks the souls out of their lives." A few minutes later we'd achieved agreement, although not necessarily comprehension. The teacher conceded that the regular U.S. History course was not as bad as her prior remarks made it seem, especially because she'd be teaching two sections of it in addition to her AP load. She even admitted that maybe AP English could fill in for the regular history course's lack of extra writing assignments. Our kid appears to trust the teacher to keep the "regular" class from degenerating into chaos.

I never thought I'd say "No, I don't think you should take that AP course". I never thought a school could put too much pressure on a student. I never thought I'd have to politely intervene to get a teacher to back off the fear marketing. I never thought parenting would be difficult in this manner.

[/rant] OK, thanks for listening.
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Old 11-15-2007, 01:18 PM   #2
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Old 11-15-2007, 01:29 PM   #3
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You need to understand AP courses and college curriculums.

I took AP Calculus in HS. I took AB. That meant I was getting two semesters worth of college courses over 2 semesters of HS. I scored a 3 or 4 on the AP exam. I passed out of Freshman 1 calculus and did NOT pass out of the freshman 2 calculus (a score of 5 would have gotten me a full year ahead).

There is also a B/C calculus course which goes into differntial equations, double intergrals and stuff I learned in calc III and differential equations in college. I could have passed out of those had I taken BC and scored well.

There was one problem. My HS calc teacher skipped the section on vectors and matrices. I got to sophomore statics I and could not solve a matrix, subsequently failed that class. I heard it was skipped because HS teachers frequently do this, as it's not covered much on AP test, and unless students are going into Engineering, that is wasted material for a HS student looking for college credit.

BTW- I went to an engineering school in Flint, Michigan. If someone were to have taken AP English, AP American History or AP Chem/AP Physics/AP Bio my school would not recognize those courses.

Why?

for one we had no freshman english class (or english department for that matter)
The history class offered to freshman was not same as AP American history
The AP chem class was not seperated into Organic and Normal chemistry. My college had two different freshman chem classes. I can tell you both were easier for the kids which took AP, but what was covered was not 1 for 1 relative to the AP class.
The AP Physics students could not get credit because AP Physics is not calculus based? Why- no guarantee the HS student taking AP Phyics was also taking AP Calc, and if they were was it AB or BC. Add into that Physics in college uses lots of matrices to do calculations (matrices learned in Calc class) so the school would not recognize AP Physics for college credit.

My opinion- take the AP courses related to the field of college study- it does look good. You don't HAVE to take the AP test (because of reasons I listed). I wouldn't change what I did (courses I took or didn't take)... you just need to deal with curves and realize not all colleges are created the same.

I do know some people which took college econ over the summer (between Junior and senior years). This was because they could get HS credit and college credit for the same econ course... and most HS do not offer AP Econ.

I would narrow down list of colleges and ask them about AP courses, and see where that puts your daughter. She might find it beneficial to learn about college pre requisites and maybe take some of those at a community college prior to leaving for school.

Community colleges are much cheaper than real colleges.
AP exams are cheaper than both.

Anything you can do will get you ahead financially (fewer bills for mom and dad, or lower student loan amounts for the kid). Maybe graduate in 3 years instead of 4. Maybe spend the 4th year as an intern somewhere earning money which also helps get a job after graduating. My favorate option is a senior year with only 3 courses and lots of bar trips. To each their own.

Good decisions now will open up doors for your daughter.
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Old 11-15-2007, 01:34 PM   #4
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I see this in my future...thanks for the heads up.

The only catch - in our in-state schools, AP classes do reduce number of credits needed for graduation. Some kids now start college with enough credits to be in their Junior year!!!

Savings and efficiency are good, as is having a challenging/interesting course load, but this makes no sense to me. What is the rush? Why be crazy? Why is it so hard to teach balance to our own kids?
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Old 11-15-2007, 01:36 PM   #5
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Wow, I am sorry to hear you are going through this. This sounds awful and would have turned me off immensely at that age.

To be honest, things seem to have changed a lot since I graduated from Punahou in the mid-1960's. At that time, colleges were scrambling to get kids from Hawaii, preferring them to mainland kids in order to even out their geographic distributions. We were recruited like you wouldn't believe, offered the moon, and I don't remember working that hard.
And studying for SAT's? :confused: Back then I think high school life was a lot easier. SAT's were an aptitude test so I didn't study for it at all, figuring that aptitude was a fixed attribute. I spent my after school time studying the tan surfer dudes down at the beach.
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Old 11-15-2007, 01:49 PM   #6
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Your mileage may vary.

I took something like 11 AP classes and 5-6 college classes during HS. My top notch engineering school took almost all my AP courses which I scored 4 or 5 on. some of the 3's too. Although I planned my junior and senior years at HS in preparation to enter a specific engineering program at the university I attended. I made sure I was taking the correct level of AP classes so they would count at the university. Such as the AP C level Physics (calculus based; different from AP B physics) and the BC level calculus. I think 5's were required to get full credit for those courses in the college of engineering.

I seem to recall I only received partial credit or no credit for 3's in 4-5 of the AP humanities subjects I took and didn't score so well on.

In hindsight, high school was probably more difficult than getting an engineering degree. But I had a lot of fun, screwed around a bunch, and had a very active social life (read: laws were broken)!
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Old 11-15-2007, 02:05 PM   #7
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My daughter, senior in HS, signed up for AP Physics, AP Calc, and AP English this year, along with marching band and two other classes and working (just Sundays during band season). She took AP Chem last year. She took regular history to give herself a break.

It was too much. She's not an ultra genius but she's a bright, pretty hard-working and well-organized kid. She was too stressed out and most grades were hurting.

The main cause was AP Physics. Apparently in years' past they hadn't been able to finish all of the topics, so kids didn't do well on the AP test. So instead of the first semester being a strengthening of core physics knowlege, the teacher jumped right to the advanced topics. The ex- was a physics major and she didn't think it was unreasonable. Texas is no-pass no-play (band as well as sports) and she was barely passing towards the end of the first 6 week grading period and decided to drop it to make sure she stayed eligible, and to regain some sanity. I talked to a couple other band parents whose kids also dropped it. They weren't even close to passing.

So now instead of taking a more interesting class that she would've taken instead of physics, she's filled that period in with being an aide at the library. Which isn't all that bad but she's already an aide for the chem teacher. There might be an opening next semester for a different class.

I'm all for kids working hard and up to their potential, but let them have fun too. Make them if you have to. AP courses related to their intended field make sense, as does English, but it doesn't have to be in all areas.
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Old 11-15-2007, 02:29 PM   #8
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Sorry to hear about the marketing pitch. My wife is has been a Chemistry teacher for 19 years (AP for 13). Most of the time its the parents that are applying the pressure to take AP classes. With the skyrocketing cost of college tuition, quite a few parents are trying to offset those costs with some AP levels classes. The price that has to be paid, unfortunetely, is a heavy school load, homework and even summer projects.

My wife has also seen the AP scores used also as a benchmark for college acceptance also. Its sad that some students are graduating with 3.5-3.9 GPA's but yet only write a 20 ACT and 1050 SAT. Its a way to weed out excellent from average. Sad to say but it is the truth. I wish this was isolated, but it is rampant. Being retired military, we have moved around alot and my wife has taught in many states FL, GA, TN, CA, MD and now MO. It seems to be a common denomintor wherever we go. FWIW, private schools seem to be no better. Not alot of oversight and private schools are even more concerned about appearance rather than content. This has only been our experience, as she has only taught at 2 private schools before we pulled our children. Never thought I would be an advocate of the No Child Left Behind policy, but I am.

The only remedy is to stay involved in your childs academic classes, as it sounds like you are. Best.
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Old 11-15-2007, 03:05 PM   #9
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AP courses are not bad things, if they challenge a student who would otherwise become bored and underachieve in high school. The danger is that they push material that the student may not be sufficiently mature to absorb, and they enter college without the fundamentals they need to take the next step. I've seen this often in mathematics, where AP calculus classes teach students to turn cranks to differentiate and integrate, but fail to teach the fundamentals of algebra that are essential to mathematical maturity. Colleges are not really structured to teach those fundamentals, they assume the student already has them. Consequently, many AP students do well in high school but get tripped up in college. But a student's mileage may vary, it all depends on the individual.
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Old 11-15-2007, 03:18 PM   #10
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It's been a long time since I've dealt with this so all I can say "You seem to be doing a great job " and it does get easier .
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Old 11-15-2007, 04:28 PM   #11
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In my D's college, the high number of AP classes taken by some of her classmates is actually working agianst them. They have enough AP credits to give them junior standing in their second year, but juniors and seniors pay a couple thousand more a year in tuition. Even though they have the credits, they are not planning to graduate in 3 years as they need more time to complete the coursework for their majors and to enjoy their college experience.

The biggest help for my D was taking AP Chem as she was able to bypass a year of inorganic chem. However, in addition to the AP score, she also had to pass a placement test.

Sometimes it just seems like another scam by the College Board.
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Old 11-15-2007, 04:31 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jIMOh View Post
You need to understand AP courses and college curriculums.
You don't HAVE to take the AP test (because of reasons I listed).
I'm no expert on the AP system, but the school mandates that the AP test be taken in order for the student to get high-school credit (on the 5.00 scale) for the AP course. Otherwise the student transcript shows the lower-level course (no "AP") on a 4.00 scale.

The local colleges aren't bad, but she's looking at a four-year ROTC ride. There's a lot of pushback from the top-tier schools, too, on transferring credits from community colleges into their heavy-duty engineering majors. CMU is so oversubscribed on electrical & computer engineering that students have to declare that major in the first semester of their freshman year. They also seemed pretty stubborn about the freshman prereqs for her flavor-of-the-month interests in architecture & civil/environmental enginering.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Want2retire View Post
To be honest, things seem to have changed a lot since I graduated from Punahou in the mid-1960's.
Some things haven't changed. The AP English teacher (she reminds me of Rita Moreno), who presumably has been exposed to a large vocabulary, explicitly told a roomful of parents & students "We're going to work hard in this course because I want to prove to you guys that you can kick the asses of those Punahou and Iolani and St. Andrew's students on the AP exam!!"

Quote:
Originally Posted by Want2retire View Post
At that time, colleges were scrambling to get kids from Hawaii, preferring them to mainland kids in order to even out their geographic distributions. We were recruited like you wouldn't believe, offered the moon...
I hope that hasn't changed either...

Quote:
Originally Posted by Want2retire View Post
... and I don't remember working that hard. And studying for SAT's? :confused: Back then I think high school life was a lot easier. SAT's were an aptitude test so I didn't study for it at all, figuring that aptitude was a fixed attribute. I spent my after school time studying the tan surfer dudes down at the beach.
... but I think that's changed. The schools she wants to tackle (Notre Dame, CMU, RPI, USNA) leave one with the clear impression that a "well-rounded student" includes a set of 1400 SATs. But 1500s are better. Of course two of those schools would be willing to negotiate if she could throw a football 70 yards...

At the other end of the spectrum, the community colleges are heavily recruiting for the construction trades. She'll have a few credits at HCC by the time she leaves high school.

Quote:
Originally Posted by RunningBum View Post
My daughter, senior in HS, signed up for AP Physics, AP Calc, and AP English this year, along with marching band and two other classes and working (just Sundays during band season). She took AP Chem last year. She took regular history to give herself a break.
It was too much. She's not an ultra genius but she's a bright, pretty hard-working and well-organized kid. She was too stressed out and most grades were hurting.
The main cause was AP Physics. Apparently in years' past they hadn't been able to finish all of the topics, so kids didn't do well on the AP test. So instead of the first semester being a strengthening of core physics knowlege, the teacher jumped right to the advanced topics. The ex- was a physics major and she didn't think it was unreasonable. Texas is no-pass no-play (band as well as sports) and she was barely passing towards the end of the first 6 week grading period and decided to drop it to make sure she stayed eligible, and to regain some sanity. I talked to a couple other band parents whose kids also dropped it. They weren't even close to passing.
Yep, that's what we're dealing with now. And she's still trying to squeeze AP chem or AP physics into her senior year along with AP literature & AP statistics. But one battle at a time.

The teachers are essentially trying to out-teach the AP exam, with practice tests and extra assignments as well. Pass-to-play is no longer an issue in our house. Varsity sports around here include weeknight games (through Honolulu rush-hour traffic) that take a chunk out of the afternoon/evening. When they started doing that for pre-season ticket sales exhibitions, we could all see what was going to happen to her grades. So it'll only be community basketball until she gets to college. At this point I think a black belt and a few years' Kumon tutoring (with a high GPA) is better than a varsity letter and a lower GPA.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Moemg View Post
It's been a long time since I've dealt with this so all I can say "You seem to be doing a great job " and it does get easier.
That's good to hear. Only 1000 days to go!
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Old 11-15-2007, 04:45 PM   #13
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Our daughter was in High School in Hawaii in 1984. We met with her math teacher and she told us 'We have determined your daughter will not be attending college so she will not be taking Algebra.' We also learned that 9th graders took something called 'Core Math' if they did not do well they would take 'Advanced Math', if they did not do well 'Core Algebra' if they did not do well, 'Algebra'. They would then "have 4 years of math and could graduate" and if they desire go to college.

Bye the way all four classes were taught using the same text book, in the same class, by the same teacher. So you would have all four types of math in the same room.

We left for Germany, she now has a Masters degree, and teaches English. So maybe math wasn't her subject, but did go to college.
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Old 11-15-2007, 05:02 PM   #14
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Credits and taking the test are definitely dependent on the school's policy, not AP policy. Our school gives AP credit w/o taking the test, but we don't have weighted grading, so all A's are 4.0. However, except for senior year, I think it's advisable to take the exam as colleges know that there is a wide range in the teaching and grading of AP courses, so the exam score gives them an objective reading of the student's knowledge of the subject.
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Old 11-15-2007, 05:08 PM   #15
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Sounds to me like you are making an excellent choice. I took AP calculus and chemistry in high school, just so I could loaf my first semester at college, but it was nowhere near as much work as you describe.

My kids are only in 2nd / 6th grade, but I'm a firm believer in school being only a portion of an education. 3 to 4 hours of homework a night is just B.S. if you ask me. Life is more important, get out of those books and get some experiences instead.

Think back, did *anything* you do back in high school really matter diddly squat once you were out in the real world?

Just my 2 cents supporting your vent

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Old 11-15-2007, 05:12 PM   #16
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Wow - this is extreme - I don't have any kids but was part of the 'gifted' program at my high school where an A in the gifted class counted as a 5.0 on your GPA. I think there were some AP opportunities then.

Here's my main concern - she's only a sophomore in hgih school right now - there's still a lot of growing up to do for her, let alone what will occur in college. Plus, if she's interested in engineering, the college curricula for an engineering degree currently tends to try and squeeze a 5 year program into 4 years and frankly there are not many opportunties for 'deviation' from the plan. Case in point - I had a 4-year ROTC scholarship more than twenty years ago and my school did not allow my ROTC classes (which take up 3 credit hours a semester) to count towards my degree. That was an extra 20 credit hours or so that was required by the Air Force ROTC program but did not count towards my engineering degree. It also cut short my time to explore other areas like philosophy, geography, psychology, etc - also, the list of 'approved out of the science, math and engineering curricula classes which were allowed for matriculation' was very short. Bottom line, she's going to be doing a grind in a very specific area in college - plus if she has a ROTC scholarship, they will be all over her to become more involved with 'leadership opportunities' and to *finish* in those four years. Let her have some fun now and be a girl still - besides, based on what you've described and assuming she maintains that trajectory, she will have a humongous amount of college acceptance opportunities from which to choose.

Lastly - will you be my parents? I did *not* have the help that you are giving your daughter and am frankly fortunate I fell into what I did - she's one lucky lady - her problem won't be finding oppportunties but picking the best one offered to her.
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Old 11-16-2007, 10:50 AM   #17
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If your daughter is a sophomore and interested in engineering you might want to figure a few things out.

I have a BS in Mechnical Engineering from GMI (Kettering). I work for a software company now using Mechanical Design software.

Engineering is a broad field. Very broad. Environmental, Mechanical, Automotive, Electrical, Computer, Aerospace etc. Within Mechanical there is CAE, Automotive, Machine design, manufacturing, and many many many other fields (acoustics, fluids...)

Be very careful specializing too young (I know of many Aerospace Engineers which could not find job s in "their" field, for example. I work with many of them now.

I would also get exposed to the following subjects
a) computer programming
b) web page design
c) engineering tools-software (2D autocad for starters, a 3D package like NX or Pro/E for intermediate). Even if not interested, the software experience alone will help with many, many opportunities. Matlab is another. I am sure others could point to others. The softwares I am thinking of are skills generic to many engineering disciplines.

In my case I changed majors 4 or 5 times. Mechanical, then Manufacturing, then Mechanical, then Mechanical-Environmental, then Mechanical-Plastics, then Mechanical-Manurfacturing and then back to Mechanical- with an emphasis now in Computer Aided Engineering (CAE). I was lucky that my school had the same core Engineering curriculum for first 5 semesters (it's not like that now, but it was 10 years ago). The biggest difference between electrical and mechanical, for example, was that an electrical engineer took circuits when they were a sophomore and mechanical students took it as a Junior or Senior.

I would choose a school which has a broad engineering curriculum for first 5 semeseters or so. This way the subjects seen in class can be seen and student might decide they want to avoid something. In my case I wish I had more computer science classes early, as I think that interests me more now. Of course I am sitting at work learning how to program right now, so even when the degree is received, the learning continues while I w*rk.

Lastly, remember the difference between engineering types

civil engineers build targets
Mechanical engineers build weapons and machines
Aerospace Engineers get the weapons and machines to the targets
Electrical Engineers make sure the weapon blows up the targets
environmental engineers tell us all why what we did was stupid. Then they also have to clean it up.
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Old 11-16-2007, 12:43 PM   #18
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Just to be contrary here. The joke at my sons high school was to be a valedictorian all one had to do was take basic courses for graduation and electives to meet the minimum requirements and get A's in all of them. Between both graduations there were more than 30 of the critters on stage. But never never take an AP class because it would screw up your GPA. Both sons took AP math and English in their Junior years. They then went full time to the local University their Senior year under the states running start program where the tuition is free but student/parents need to pay for books.

Both felt that the AP classes were a waste of time once compared to their University classes. AP classes were far more structured and provided less education than a comparable college class.

So I guess what I'm saying is that AP classes in High School do not equate to a college class even though they are supposed too. Is taking the AP class to make a statement "look at me I'm in AP" or "my little Suzy is in AP I'm sooo proud of her" or is it to challenge the the child and prepare them for the future?

Better to take College classes that transfer in a college setting getting use to the way things are done in college than spending the energy in AP class.

Just my opinion. I applaud your involvement in preparing your child for her future whatever she chooses to do.
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Old 11-16-2007, 12:45 PM   #19
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I do interviewing for my college for prospective students. One of the stock questions we ask is what AP courses they took and what they learned from it.
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Old 11-16-2007, 01:04 PM   #20
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Re: AP classes versus same class in college

I know I got a lot more out of my HS AP classes than what my classmates reported getting out of the same classes in college. For one thing, the instructors spoke fluent english, something that you probably won't experience too much at many universities when you take introductory physics, calculus/diff eq and chemistry courses. Although maybe not understanding anything the prof says and then learning it on your own IS the way to prepare for a successful college career?
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