If there is one thing Katie Boltz has mastered in high school, it is how to use every minute of her day efficiently. With five Advanced Placement classes, the Baltimore senior doesnt text her friends or watch TV so she can focus on homework -- but still only manages three or four hours of sleep some nights.
Originally, I thought I would really like all of these classes, the 17-year-old Dulaney High School student said, adding that when she is overwhelmed, she questions the decision to take so many demanding classes at one time. It is definitely a lot.
Boltz is one of a growing number of students throughout the nation juggling a full plate of college-level classes in high school.
In the past decade, the number of students nationwide who take more than three AP exams a year has doubled, to about 175,000.
Designed a half-century ago to give a few thousand elite students a chance to skip introductory college classes, Advanced Placement is now the required portal to college for any ambitious teen.
But its widespread acceptance as a national gold standard has altered the nature of high school for students like Boltz, critics say.
They see an education system that rewards top students who take 10 to 12 AP classes during their high school careers -- the equivalent of more than a year of college -- but narrows the choice of classes they can take and creates undue stress.
The system is driven partly, they say, by colleges that use Advanced Placement -- the number of classes taken and exam scores earned -- to rank applicants, and by savvy local school administrators who want to boost a schools national rankings.
School districts routinely point to those rankings, giving principals an incentive to get more students to take the classes. Now some parents, educators and even university admissions officers are rethinking the role of AP classes.
The admissions office for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is advising applicants that there is no benefit from taking more than five AP classes. And a New York public high school has dumped the program in favor of what it sees as a better college preparatory curriculum.
One of the strongest arguments for taking the classes, proponents of AP say, is that they can save students thousands of dollars in college tuition.
But the No. 1 reason that U.S. students cite for taking the classes is the lift AP can give their college applications, a College Board survey showed.
I dont think getting the credit is a huge incentive for the students who are looking at competitive schools, said Dulaney senior Amica Phillips.