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Jerry Bradshaw: AP classes not for everyone

Gerald Bradshaw

Gerald Bradshaw

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Updated: April 10, 2012 11:14AM



Dear Mr. Bradshaw: I enjoyed speaking with you recently. Your comments echoed those of my biology teacher, who said I should consider a career in medical research, rather than as a surgeon.

I hope to be accepted at Stanford University because of its diverse student body and the research, internship and job opportunities that abound in the Silicon Valley and San Francisco. Stanford boasts brilliant professors, a world-renowned academic structure and study-abroad opportunities.

Although I want to study medicine in graduate school, I also am interested in pursuing another Ph.D. I have applied for biology, chemistry, biochemistry and biomedical engineering majors at the universities to which I have applied. I’m doing an International Baccalaureate in high school and take four higher-level subjects, so I am working hard to get top grades so I can get advanced standing and avoid at least a year of undergrad studies. I hope this will lead to a double major in three years or triple major in four.

My question is, based upon what you know about me and your knowledge of economic trends, which double major or major combinations would you suggest? — A Student Dear Student:

Your question really has two distinct questions that must be answered — pursuing multiple majors and, the sleeper question, whether to take advantage of advanced standing and skip most of your freshman year.

Based on my experience, any of the majors on your list should bode well for the future, whether you go to grad or medical school. All are tough programs and will impress admissions committees if you do extremely well in them.

I have a tutor for the SAT who is taking triple majors in physics, chemistry and math. Another one of my tutors is taking a double in philosophy and economics.

You might cluster majors close together, which has the added advantage of cross fertilization; the skills learned in one major often can be used in the other.

The other question I want to address is the sleeper: whether to take advantage of Advanced Placement classes. Most college freshmen do not have a good strategy in mind for evaluating the advantages or disadvantages of taking AP classes. Certainly, by taking advanced classes, it is possible to skip a year of college.

But this might not be the best decision for all students. Loading up on AP classes — in practice, becoming a sophomore in your freshman year — often leads to lower grades and a lower grade-point average that is impossible from which to recover.

I advise students that the freshman year is all about earning top grades. Not to be cynical about it (you do learn while you earn), but in the final analysis, you will need top grades in order to apply to medical or grad school.

The grades you earn in the first year, as a freshman or sophomore, are critical in establishing your overall GPA. If you have a bad semester or even dip to a B in a single class, it will have a negative effect on your GPA and, statistically, it is impossible to average it out in the second and third year.

Remember, if you take AP classes, you eventually will compete with second-year students, many of whom will have taken the introductory class that you skipped. And, in most cases, they will be better prepared for the second year.

In other words if you opt for AP, you forgo the chance to earn a relatively easier A.



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