Monday, March 24, 2008


Sunwashed days in a Cancun resort, at the beach, in the pool, at cafes. Wild nights at crazy parties, dancing the night away to the sound of ocean surf. Midnight swims in hotel pools. Such is a typical Spring Break stereotype.

But is it true? Is it realistic? Where are Paly students REALLY going this March?

Exhibit A: Leadership Conference in San Jose. "It could have rained, snowed, hailed, or have been beautiful outside, I wouldn't know: we had to stay inside the hotel at all times."
Exhibit B: Brussels, Belgium and Oxford, England. "Right now it's two degrees above freezing."
Exhibit C: HAWAII!!! [No comment.]

As appealing as all these exotic locales may sound, Palo Alto's weather has been nothing to sneeze at in the past few days. Stubbornly sunny days should continue most of the week, with a slight chance of precipitation on Wednesday.

If you're looking for a pleasant lunch location to soak up some rays right here in Palo Alto, Stanford's Cantor Arts Museum has a great cafe that offers outdoor seating with plenty of sun.

Staying home doesn't have to be boring. Spring Break's a perfect time to shoot some hoops, practice guitar, or watch all those movies you never seem to have time to watch on weekends.

And if all this hasn't been enough and you still want to go to Cancun, let me know. I have connections.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

The AP Question

"I'm taking APUSH next year."
"I'm sorry, are you suicidal?"
This exchange is an example of just a few of students' views on AP classes.

Should I sign up for AP Environmental Science? Is BC Calc AP really worth it? How many AP's should I take to impress colleges and yet maintain my basic human sanity?

Stanford says, "Always sign up from among the most challenging courses that excite you the most." On the other hand, "Do not feel pressured to take Honors or Advanced Placement courses just because they are Honors or Advanced Placement Courses."

The question of how much is too much is too often forgotten in the average overachiever's quest for college admissions. Five AP's per year is regarded as ridiculous; one is not challenging enough. The magic number must lie somewhere between.

Advanced Placement classes, according to CollegeBoard, help you "enter a universe of knowledge that might otherwise remain unexplored in high school" and AP exams give you "the opportunity to earn credit or advanced standing at most of the nation's colleges and universities." However, most of the students who take AP courses in high school do not plan to finish college early, as the original purpose dictates. Has an AP course become just another ruler by which colleges measure their prospective applicants? And above all, is the result worth the rigors?

Six Paly students shared their experiences.
A, a senior, took AP US History her junior year and AP's in all core subjects her senior year. She wrote a piece on the unreliability of college admissions for Verde (

K, a senior, took one AP and one Honors class her junior year, and three AP's her senior year.

T, a senior, took one AP her junior year and three her senior year, but dropped one, leaving her with Spanish 5AP and AP Statistics in her schedule. "AP Stats is really different from the other math classes," she said, without saying it was harder or easier.

K, a junior, is taking no AP's this year, and expressed incredulity when I told her I planned on taking four my junior year.

E, a senior, took two AP's as a junior and four as a senior. A prospective Political Science major who recently interviewed for Brown, he manipulated his schedule to take multiple social studies classes his sophomore year "to make colleges see that I'm serious about the subject." In other areas, however, he did not plan quite as well. "Believe me, you do not want to take Living Skills your senior year," he said, referring to the traditionally sophomore-dominated class that includes First Aid training, among other "life skills."

M, a senior headed to Stanford for track, took two AP's her junior year and three her senior year. She also holds the school track record in the 400 and 800m.

Paly, a demanding school in itself, offers a wide array of honors and advanced placement classes, making it possible to sign up for an all-AP schedule of 7 classes in 12th grade, provided one has completed the prerequisites.

Favorite AP Environmental Science is looked upon as a less stressful AP, but requires a year of Physics. Senior A described the AP College English teacher as "crazy," but laughed as she said it. An endless combination of social studies electives begins with AP US History (dubbed "A-PUSH" by students) in junior year, and culminates, some would say, in AP Psychology, a class exclusively for seniors. And then there is the KING OF ALL AP CLASSES: BC Calculus AP. A Stanford engineering professor, whose child took the class, reportedly said it was excruciatingly and unnecessarily painful.

Of course, the moral of the story ought to be that it doesn't matter how many AP's you take if you do what you love. And to a certain degree, this is true; take senior M as proof. However, it is also true that colleges love to see you focusing on a challenging class in a subject about which you are passionate.

So, sign up for as many AP classes as you think you can handle, but take them with a pinch of realistic expectations, self-awareness, and - oh yeah - salt.