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Usage of AP and IB tests reviewed

For many prospective UNC students, college starts before they step on campus as freshmen.

College-level courses — such as Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses — are emphasized in many high schools as a way to gain a competitive edge in college admission.

But due to a UNC study released a few weeks ago, University admissions officers are re-evaluating the importance of these classes.

The study determined to what extent college-level courses in high school led to better performance in students’ first year at UNC — and the results might surprise students who like to stretch themselves thin.

The study found that students who took up to five college-level courses in high school on average had a significantly higher freshman GPA than those who didn’t take any, said Stephen Farmer, vice provost for enrollment and undergraduate admissions, who helped conduct the study.

But the incremental gains in freshman GPAs are smaller — or nonexistent — for students who have taken more than five, according to the study.

“The question we wanted to ask was whether there was a point at which more college-level courses in high school maybe didn’t offer the incremental increase that we always assumed they offered,” Farmer said.

“You can’t assume that somebody who takes 15 Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or college-level courses in high school is necessarily going to do better in his or her first year at Carolina as someone who takes five or less,” he said.

Farmer worked closely with Jen Kretchmar, senior assistant director of undergraduate admissions, and Christopher Wiesen, research assistant at UNC’s Howard W. Odum Institute for Social Science, to conduct the study.

Farmer added that there are more questions to ask and aspects of admissions criteria to examine, but he does believe the research holds weight.

“We don’t want to discourage people from challenging themselves, because we think it’s important that people challenge themselves,” he said. “We just don’t want students to feel forced to dwell on criteria that are less meaningful than we thought they were.”

Jordan Lee, a senior at East Chapel Hill High School, has taken three AP courses and found them rewarding.

“I feel like (the classes) give me a sense of looking up and a sense of how hard it’s actually going to be in college,” he said.

But Lee added that some students are taking too many tough courses.

“The more you take, the better you look (for colleges). Some people take too many. I just take the ones I like, and I’m happy with them.”

Farmer said high school students who enroll in many college-level courses might not be as prepared as they think.

“A concern that we’ve heard occasionally here is that in high school, (students) race so hard to what they think is the finish line that they don’t really have much strength for the real learning that starts after,” Farmer said.

“It’s one thing to ask people to exert themselves when we think the exertion is meaningful, and it’s another just to ask someone to jump through an empty hoop.”

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