The AP and Honors Craze–Part II

Cory NevilleUncategorized

Earlier this week, I wrote about the emphasis placed on AP and Honors, how this emphasis has been heightened in our current educational climate, and how this emphasis sometimes outweighs continuing music study in high school.  I also mentioned that I had spoken to directors of admissions from several local schools including University of Pittsburgh, Duquesne, West Virginia University, Franklin and Marshall, Baldwin-Wallace, Slippery Rock, and Washington and Jefferson.  So I know you’ve been dying to know–what did they have to say about all of this?…..




It was unanimous that AP and Honors courses carry significantly more weight on HS transcripts and are viewed as “far more important” than music.


*cymbal crash*


Well, of course they are viewed this way and of course these classes are well worth it.  Why else would Quaker Valley, one of the top public high schools in the country (if you want or need a reminder of our awesome creds, click here), place emphasis on these courses if they were not important or valuable?  Why else would our teachers (including me by the way…I teach AP Music Theory…) and counselors at QV recommend students take these courses if they were not important or valuable?

Resounding agreement that music is not as important as other classes on a HS transcript obviously makes it more difficult for me to persuade students and parents to prioritize music in high school.  So why would I write about it in the first place?  Because AP and Honors carrying more weight than music electives for college admissions does not tell the whole story. 

Let’s go back to “Student B” from the last post.  Student B has left Band or Orchestra not because they do not like Band or Orchestra, but because they believe they are better off taking four AP or Honors classes and no music instead of taking three AP or Honors classes and music.  This isn’t necessarily the case…

The same college admissions directors who strongly emphasized the value of AP and Honors classes were equally enthusiastic to tell us of how music looks great on high school transcripts in addition to those classes.  Some examples:

“We definitely notice when a student takes a lot of music classes–it shows us that they are passionate and dedicated, and we love passionate and dedicated students.”

“I don’t really care that much when a student takes a year of music on a whim.  But I do care when I see a student who takes music for all four years of high school.  It shows us the dedication and talent that selective colleges love to see.”

“Colleges love rigor and respond to evidence that an applicant is nurturing his or her talent by pursuing challenging material.  My hunch is that your music students academically outperform a majority of their peers.  Reminding families and students that academic success and music study often go hand-in-hand may remind them of the value of continuing music in high school.”

“We actually require prospective students to have taken a unit of fine arts in high school , which we define as at least a full year of anything art, music, dance or theatre related.”

“I always ask students about their activities in high school.  We’re looking for students who are successful and well-rounded, and this includes their elective classes and extra-curricular activities.”

Students should schedule every AP and Honors course that they want to take, need to take and/or believe they can handle successfully because it will demonstrate academic rigor to prospective colleges and universities.  BUT–students who love music and their parents need to know that doing that at the expense of music participation is not something they they should feel they have to do in order to get good schools to notice them.  Adding advanced courses to a student’s schedule adds rigor to what they’re doing–but keeping music in their schedule does not take away rigor!  This is the “craze:” it is difficult to see students who would reap the benefits from music participation set music aside because somehow they’ve developed the idea that high school music just isn’t valuable.

At the end of the day, this balancing act is challenging for every student, parent, counselor and teacher–we all want what’s best for every student.   From my perspective as a music teacher, it is especially difficult to accept losing students for reasons that have nothing to do with how much they want to be involved in the music program.  Some good balancing advice came from the admissions directors:

“The decisions regarding selection of classes in high school should depend on the student’s intended college major (if they know this), the competitiveness of that major, and the student’s interests.  We, of course, look favorably on the arts, but it is important for students to understand that there must be a proper balance.”

“The core classes a student needs will not fill their academic schedule in high school.  We recommend that students take elective courses in music, art, languages, computers and technology.  If a student has a college major in mind, we would recommend that the student’s major interests be reflected in the electives.”

“I am impressed with the thoughtfulness of your approach.  Scheduling is ultimately about students pursuing their interests and passions.  I don’t like seeing emphasis placed on advanced courses solely for the sake of a student’s college admission profile” (emphasis added)

Our hypothetical students in Part I of this post follow the advice of these college admissions directors to varying degrees.  Student A, who dropped his music class because he needed to make room for an AP class that directly related to his major, is doing exactly what he’s supposed to be doing.  I’ll miss Student A, but feel good that even though he’s not in my class, he’s doing what’s best for him to get ready for life after high school.

Student C, who wishes to major in music but is dropping music classes in favor of taking non-music AP and Honors courses because he thinks that’s what colleges want to see, is making a poor choice by doing so.  Prospective music majors should be taking as much music in high school as possible to reflect preparation for their major (It’s worthy to note at this point that our high school music program offers both regular electives and Honors and AP electives).  Students who wish to major in music and their parents should be in close contact with the high school music faculty regarding how to prepare for music school, as colleges and universities have very different expectations of prospective music majors than of non-music majors.

Finally, there’s Student B, who has dropped music in favor of stacking their schedule with advanced classes because they think that’s what they need to do.  Student B is right to push themselves, but they need to find balance so they don’t spread themselves too thin, and music can aid in this significantly.  The Student B’s of the world need to understand that while adding AP and Honors classes to their schedule adds to the rigor colleges like to see, keeping music in their schedule does not take away rigor.

I hope that this series of posts will help remind all students and their families that, not only can music be a part of their high school balancing act without jeopardizing their academic standing, but that music study is still viewed as a strength on those high school transcripts and college applications in addition to their other courses.

Balance well!