There are many AP, IB, and other advanced courses available at Berkeley High School, but how many students really want to be taking these classes? With increasingly competitive college admissions and pressure from peers, it’s hard to say.
“If everyone else is signing up for a club, then maybe they feel the pressure to do the same thing,” said Jesse Pabico, an AP Physics teacher. He used this example of people signing up for clubs to explain why students feel inclined to enroll in classes that they won’t end up utilizing after high school. Peer pressure, even if it isn’t overt, can lead students to make decisions that they may regret.
Pabico’s class happens to be very rigorous and he believes that most kids who take it are truly interested in the subject. “There’s a certain level of math that you have to hit and if you don’t enjoy math, then you’re probably not going to enjoy a math based science course,” said Pabico. He mentioned that you need to be able to keep up in class, and if you fall behind it is very difficult to catch up again.
Another reason that students would choose to take a class like AP Physics is to stand out on college applications. The minimum requirement to graduate from California high schools and to apply to UC schools is two years of science, however admissions are very competitive, so students often choose to take more than this. “And even though you can get away with taking three years of science and applying to a place like Yale or Princeton, most applicants all throughout the nation usually take four years of science or they’ll try to squeeze in a fifth year of science. They’ll always go above the minimum,” said Pabico.
Junior Olive Robinson-McGee took AP Chemistry with Sam Rozen last year and is currently taking AP Biology with Shannon Mueller. The reason she took these classes was to challenge herself, something she felt standard classes wouldn’t do. Robinson-McGee stated that she wishes there were more challenging classes that were of greater interest to her. “It’s hard for people to self motivate in a class that they’re not interested in taking,” she said. For Robinson-McGee, chemistry was hard to focus on at times. She also brought up her desire for AP electives available to students so that they could get AP credit while taking a more captivating class.
Sam Matsumoto is an Advanced Photography and Bridge teacher. They had a different viewpoint than Robinson-McGee, saying that BHS has more AP electives compared to the school they used to work at and their own high school. They did, however, agree that there is a benefit to taking challenging classes. “I think I gained a lot just by taking those courses and the rigor of it really, I do think it helped prepare me for college and helped me be a better thinker,” said Matsumoto.
As both a Bridge and photography teacher, Matsumoto has seen students struggle with having too many AP classes on their plate. They added that they don’t think taking five or six AP classes is “worth it” for most students. They also talked about how AP classes are often advertised as the only route to getting credit boosts and many students don’t realize that BCC and other classes are transferable to their transcript.
Another main reason that students take challenging classes that don’t relate to what they want to do in the future is due to parental pressure. “Students are more engaged and want to do better if they’re in classes they’re interested in and they want to take; (it’s) the psychology of ‘I’m choosing to do something versus someone telling me I have to do something,’” Matsumoto stated.
They also talked about how students who come from affluent backgrounds and have the means to get outside support are more often seen in AP and other high level classes, oftentimes because those are the students whose parents want them to take those classes.
However, there are benefits to taking classes students feel they might not use. “There’s a lot of value because you might not know it’s something you’re interested in or might not (have been) exposed (to it),” said Matsumoto.