Why the drop in AP Lang enrollment isn’t necessarily bad

Sometime during the first week of school, I passed by the AP English Language and Composition classroom–more commonly known as AP Junior English–and noticed a small group of students inside. I didn’t think much of it at first, but then I realized that this class was very small–much smaller than my class had been the year before. It looked as though a band trip, DECA and MUN had coincided and abducted half of the class. 

Later, I confirmed that the class size was, in fact, that small: only 16 students had initially enrolled. By the end of its second week, the class had decreased to a mere 12. In contrast, over 20 were enrolled in last year’s class. To be honest, I was saddened to see such a beloved class so dramatically reduced. 

What is it about these English classes that so deter students? 

To clarify, it is certainly not the way in which Mrs. Aalberg teaches. In fact, in talking to past and current students, I’ve confirmed that Mrs. Aalberg is both a loved and integral member of our school community. This fact is incontrovertible. Period. 

So what does the drop in AP English indicate? Most people would argue that there is one reason: students are afraid to risk a B, so they drop out for fear of “failure.” Perhaps this is occasionally true, but it’s not all. 

There are two reasons behind the lack of enrollment in AP Lang. One, that students drop the class after enrolling, and two, that people just don’t apply for the class to begin with. Students, parents, faculty members and administrators tend to focus solely on the former, and I find that attitude seriously problematic. 

Let’s consider the five students who dropped AP Lang this year. Is it concerning that they are self-selecting more? Is it concerning that they are recognizing their priorities and the work that they can manage? No. 

Sure, maybe a few students’ decisions to drop classes (not just Lang) are uncomfortably late if they’re made in the second week of school, but they indicate that students are making conscious and thoughtful decisions to revise their commitments. When I served as a student representative to the School Board last year, district administrators often referenced “social and emotional learning.” This is precisely the emotional aspect of that priority: considering mental health. 

And while it’s always sad to see people leave, maybe a small class is better. When I’ve been at college presentations, admissions officers are quick to boast their small class sizes. I’ve heard of 9:1, 8:1 and 7:1 student-to-professor ratios. Smaller classes allow students more time to converse, write and collaborate. So why are we so eager to criticize a smaller environment? 

This I have heard across dozens of conversations: by the time students arrive at junior year, they’re focused on receiving the highest possible GPA, the highest possible number of AP courses and the highest grades. Again, I suppose this is true–sometimes.

Now let’s entertain the other facet of this drop in enrollment: few students even consider taking AP Lang in the first place. Yes, it’s a challenging course, but it is incredibly rewarding. Throughout fascinating research projects, critical essays and creative profiles, AP Lang provided me with crucial skills that dramatically improved my attitude and practices while writing. I learned about colonial, modern and postmodern writing. I learned about realism versus Realism, existentialism, Salem witch trials. In a class like AP Lang, work is going to be rigorous–that’s just the nature of the AP curriculum. But it is absolutely worth it; not only did my personal work ethic improve, but my class as a whole grew tightly-knit with time.

AP Lang isn’t so dissimilar from other classes in that it sees a decrease in enrollment at the beginning of the year. But because AP Lang is small, the drop in enrollment always seems extreme. 

Maybe the solution is to simply encourage more students to take AP Lang while also recognizing that AP classes are options, not necessities. Paradoxical? Perhaps. But effective? I think yes.