AP's and Competitive Schools: How We Can Help

~3 Minutes / ~650 Words
Last Updated Dec 12, 2020

At Occam Education, our goal is to help students have the best possible chance of succeeding in competitive schools. One way this is possible is by preparing students for Advanced Placement (AP) courses and exams.

The AP curriculum is designed to prepare students for university-level courses by using similar strategies that university instructors do. This means that students encounter a deeper, more thorough glimpse into certain subjects than standard high school classes might give. We provide a number of AP courses ourselves in a variety of subjects.

In addition to tutoring and exam preparation, we also provide consultation for students and families to help determine what kinds of Advanced Placement courses will be the best fit. We want to help students give themselves the best possible chance for admission into competitive universities.

Here are some of the factors we look at when helping students pick advanced classes:

  • What does the student want or need? Family input is very important in gauging what a student is like, and what a student may not yet understand about themselves. However, it is also important to listen to students’ ideas as well. As educators, we will work with families and students to consider the degree of guidance they need and balance this with a young adult’s ideas about their own future.
  • What are their strengths? There are several options available, particularly with science and math courses, to make a student’s strong points even stronger. Alternatively, if a student will only take the AP tests and not the courses, it would be wise to stick primarily to their strengths. (Some tests are notoriously hard to get a score of 5 on.) This is particularly important if a student is aiming for admission to schools like MIT and Cambridge.
  • What is their current course load preparing them for? When deciding whether to recommend an AP exam or course, we look at the student’s planned and completed prerequisites and their level of preparedness. A student could be aspiring to take AP BC Calculus, but be struggling in algebra during their sophomore year. This may not necessarily spell the end of their AP ambitions. However, it may be better to consider other options (like computer science) if the student is truly interested in a math-related field. Not only will an option like this improve their math skills, but it sets the groundwork for potentially taking more advanced courses earlier in their college career.
  • How rigorous is the student’s current course of study? Competitive schools require incoming students to be the kind of people who challenge themselves, which involves stepping out of their comfort zone. Yale, for instance, looks for applicants who have clearly challenged themselves during high school, and this carries a lot of weight in their admissions decisions.
  • How varied will their chosen courses be? Depending on a student’s progress in school, weaknesses, and strengths, it is a good idea to examine whether their proposed AP goals will look consistent, well-rounded, or merely random. Either a broader or a deeper knowledge base can be beneficial when looking at a student’s personality and goals. With this in mind, we will work to determine the best ways to overcome a difficult subject.
  • Does their dream school require a certain number of high scores on AP tests? AP tests can be taken without taking the class. Further, not many US universities require them for admission, though they can earn students course credit. However, if their dream school is, say, Cambridge, and they have the work ethic and talent needed to get 5 scores of 5, there is no reason not to work for that.

Regardless of whether the AP curriculum is a good fit, our advice is for students to take at least 5 challenging courses in high school. Our hope is to determine how this can be accomplished as early as possible so that prerequisites can be satisfied.