A Closer Look at AP v. Integrated

Julie Lee

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At some point or another, APs became a favorable choice in the eyes of college-bound students. Radnor students can choose to take AP courses or integrated courses(honors classes which meet for two periods each day, and are worth one English and one Social Studies credit). For instance, as a junior, I could have taken AP Language and Composition and AP US History, or Viewpoints. Viewpoints counts as AP Lang while assimilating the social studies component into the curriculum without the AP label. So, it all comes down to whether or not colleges prefer students with more AP credits over students who chose the integrated program.
The interesting thing about integrated courses is that every school has a distinct style and definition of ‘integrated.’ Unlike APs, which are uniform across the country, ‘integrated’ can be interpreted in numerous different ways. In some schools, integrated science classes are taken by students who didn’t pass the Keystones and thus cannot take the AP level courses; as a result, integrated classes like these have less workload and are easier to manage than AP science courses such as AP Chemistry orAP Physics. However, this notion of integrated is not universal, as Radnor’s integrated classes are “considered to be among RHS’s most rigorous humanities offerings,” according to the 2015-16 School Profile. The four integrated classes—Gov and Econ, Global Issues, Viewpoints, and Senior Seminar—each have about the same workload as two AP classes combined. I took Honors Gov and Econ and English freshman year instead of the integrated program. Because many of my friends took integrated, I was able to hear a lot about the projects and essays that they worked on. While I had straight-forward weekly readings and tests, they focused more on long-term projects and essays. The topics that were covered were essentially the same, but the learning approaches were completely different.
For both sophomore and junior years, I chose to take integrated programs through Global Issues and Viewpoints, respectively. By doing so, I gave up AP credits in exchange for a program that I thought was a better fit for me. AP classes (especially history-related ones) are heavily focused on memorization and test-taking. Depending on the type of person you are, you may not be the best test-taker, even though you understand the material. Intelligence really cannot be boiled down to test scores, but that seems to be how colleges within the current society determine results.
Accordingly, integrated programs allow for an alternative way of learning that is equally as demanding, challenging, and time-consuming as the AP classes. The key word here is ‘alternative.’ Though the standard may be different at other schools, at Radnor, integrated classes are alternatives to APs – not courses that are inferior to them. Maureen McDermott, a Class of 2014 graduate who now studies at Hamilton College, remarked, “Viewpoints (and all of Radnor’s integrated programs) definitely helped me with the college application process. Their de-emphasis on grades taught me how to more holistically reflect on my strengths and weaknesses as as student/person in order to provide the strongest supplementary materials to my apps! But more importantly, and what I realized in my first 1.5 years at college, they taught me how to engage – with my peers, with the world, with academic conversations. They taught me how to critically think about myself, others, and new information and how to really sift through ideas and text and add my own unique opinions to already existing dialogues.” As demonstrated through Maureen’s experience, Radnor’s integrated courses may not have the AP label, but most definitely have unique aspects that cannot be found in standard AP classes. Because extensive discussions and analyses are one of the main components, integrated courses provide more opportunities to think deeper instead of simply learning the context on the surface.
To get a better insight, I talked to my guidance counselor, Mrs. Wess. From years of experience, Mrs. Wess said that taking integrated instead of AP courses has not hindered any of her students in the past. For students with integrated courses on their transcript, Radnor guidance counselors send along a respective packet with a detailed curriculum explanation with the recommendation letter. Furthermore, Mrs. Wess mentioned that she includes a paragraph about the rigor of integrated courses within her recommendations as well. Because the integrated courses are explained in depth, many, if not all, colleges understand the high academic level of these classes. Overall, Mrs. Wess stressed that colleges recognize the academic value of both AP classes and Radnor’s integrated classes.
Countless Radnor seniors who have taken integrated courses have been accepted to their top-choice colleges without having as many APs as other students who didn’t choose an integrated program. These graduates not only provide a reliable baseline for the colleges, but also demonstrate the competitive nature of the integrated courses here at Radnor. Lucy Johnston, a Class of 2015 graduate who is now attending Brigham Young University, said, “I really enjoyed the class because it challenged me in totally new ways. I learned how to write more precisely and carefully construct arguments. They encouraged us to analyze the media’s messages which changed how I watch movies, commercials, and the news. In terms of college applications, one AP credit seems like a minor sacrifice compared to the improvement in my writing for college essays and my increased ability to dissect the world around me.” Lucy brings up an important point not only in the process of college applications, but also in her development as a student overall. College essays are very important as it shows to colleges who you are beyond the numbers. In my opinion, a solid college essay is much more significant than having twoless AP credits. Furthermore, Lucy now perceives media in a more multifaceted angle than before, a clear academic gain as media takes up a huge part of today’s society.
Finally, high school is meant to prepare the students for their future. For many, this means college. Integrated courses do the same or arguably a better job in getting students ready for their college experiences. Tyler McDowell, a Class of 2015 graduate who now attends Middlebury College, hit the mark as he commented, “AP courses provide a materially heavier course load, while integrated courses require a greater depth of thought. I hope that educators can avoid falsely associating quantity with quality, so far as modes of thoughts are concerned.” Though the quantity of two AP credits is definitely more than none, quality of an integrated course is something that both you and the colleges cannot ignore. So, if your sole reason for not taking integrated is because of the AP credits you will give up, you should reconsider and focus more on what is the best fit for you.