When High Stakes Meet High Prices (From an AP High School Student)

In my fairly new public high school situated in a nice suburb, the graduating class of 2016 sits at about one thousand students. About a third of these students are enrolled in AP classes, and I know almost all of their names (or at least faces) from bumping shoulders with them in a freezing testing center or from lending loose leaf paper for the third time that day. You’d think AP students would carry paper, right? Wrong. Never.

While preparing for these AP tests throughout the year, more talk of college from the school staff began to float around than ever. An AP course’s general purpose is to prepare one for college: Depending on the score received on the cumulative test in May, a college might accept the grade in place of a college course, allowing students to knock out credits while still drifting through the public education system. That’s why I took AP Language and Composition and AP United States History my junior year — and enrolled in AP Calc, AP Gov, AP Lit, and AP Bio for next year. It’s June and I’m taking a break from my endless summer homework to type this into a crowded Google Docs folder, if you wanted some imagery. My friends and acquaintances corroborated my reasoning during college discussions.

Still, our counselors would interrupt our AP class periods to beg us to take the AP tests, dusting the $90 price tag under the words “class exempt” and “step ahead in college.” But when we were asked to indicate how many of us were actually planning on going to college, about half of us raised our hands. Half. In an AP class. Why?

IMG_5550I’m stacking my schedule for college. Success stories of students who graduated in three years, who jumped into their careers early with few student loans, are offered on platters. I want that. I’m looking to be a lawyer. A degree is absolutely necessary for this path, and anything that could lighten the load is much appreciated, even if it breaks my back at 17. I’m looking at over a $100,000 for a bachelor’s, and if some extra textbook reading can cut some classes and zeros from the equation, I’m in. That’s what my peers are in it for too. While sometimes the challenge alone is worth it, the love of that challenge is generally coupled with a desire to prepare for the future. We want our time in college to be fulfilling. However, it’s the time commitment and COST that scare high school students away. A quarter of my AP Language class didn’t take the AP test — a year of essays and analysis and vocabulary tests to not even try to get college credit, all because of the price. If $90 is scaring us away, how are we supposed to remain calm in the face of  $40,000/year?

I have no clue. But I’m just a teenager.

Jacqueline Mumford is a high school senior, a journalism editor, and Vice President of Communications for her National Honor Society. She is applying to Syracuse University, University of Washington and Brigham Young University for Fall 2016.