How would you like to be nearly halfway through college before ever setting foot on campus? One recent graduate from Baker High School did just that, thanks to the opportunity to earn college credit through Advanced Placement courses in high school.
Casey Phillips left Baker and enrolled at Auburn University with 56 credit hours earned in high school through taking AP exams, leaving her four hours short of being a college junior.
“The counselors recommended them when I was at Baker,” said Phillips, a microbiology major who is now considered a senior in her second year at Auburn. “Once I took my first AP course, which was psychology, then I just kept wanting to take more. I liked how challenging they were — I always like a challenge – and the amount that I get to learn compared to regular or honors courses.”
Another MCPSS graduate, Bradley Davis of Davidson, prepared himself for college with another challenging curriculum, International Baccalaureate. Davis said the higher level of difficulty in IB coursework prepares students well for what they’ll encounter at the postsecondary level.
“There’s a higher degree of what’s expected from you, especially in terms of writing proficiency,” said Davis, now a senior at the University of South Alabama who is pursuing dual degrees in German as a foreign language and international relations. “It’s my final semester at South and now I am in the process of finishing and defending my honors thesis for undergraduate. Looking back, the extended essay portion of the IB curriculum, which is a long-format essay on a topic of your choosing with a mentor and extensive research, directly parallels the undergraduate thesis in a college format.
“So I’ve had this experience before, I’ve written papers of length thanks to IB, I’ve written things I’ve researched in depth with my own kind of analysis thanks to IB, so I feel like I’m extremely well prepared for that process.”
AP courses and International Baccalaureate form one of the six pathways to College and Career Readiness, as defined by the state of Alabama. They are different in terms of approach, but both ultimately prepare students with the study habits and academic skills necessary to succeed in college.
AP courses, available at all MCPSS high schools, give students the opportunity to earn college credit through exhibiting their knowledge of college-level curriculum, utilizing exams to demonstrate that knowledge. IB, meanwhile, is available at only Davidson and Murphy and features a curriculum geared toward developing students who exemplify the IB learner profile: Inquirers, Knowledgeable, Thinkers, Communicators, Principled, Open-minded, Caring, Risk-takers, Balanced and Reflective.
“The different kinds of courses you get to take … parallels a college style where I have the option to choose a path, for example, chemistry or biology, IB film, even art now,” said Davids, who was a member of the first Davidson class to go through four years of pre-IB and IB coursework. “You can kind of craft your own educational experience in a way that mirrors a student in college.”
Davidson IB coordinator Lydia Edmonds said the school has had great success with the program since its implementation there in 2007, noting that all of Davidson’s IB graduates go on to colleges and universities and all have some type of scholarship of grant.
“The main thing we’ve seen through research is that IB students tend to be persistent and adaptive,” she said. “A high percentage of our graduates seem to be going on to degrees beyond their undergraduate degree. They seem to be go-getters who are comfortable in the setting.”
As Davis prepares for graduation, Phillips plans to use the head start she earned through AP classes to give herself time to gain practical experience in her field before she goes to veterinary school.
“I have to get in a lot of experience hours shadowing in order to get accepted to (veterinary school),”said Phillips, who still intends to spend a full four years at Auburn. “So as far as having a lot of those classes out of the way, I can take advantage of that and maybe spend that extra time doing undergraduate research or volunteering.”
Meredith Jones, an academic advisor in Auburn’s College of Sciences and Mathematics, said most students who come in with hours already earned through AP courses follow a similar route to Phillips, taking advantage of shadowing opportunities or double-majoring instead of finishing school early.
“A lot of professional schools, whether its vet or med or dental, require shadowing hours in the professional realm,” Jones said. “For the student to have the opportunity to do that while still tackling classes as well is a great opportunity.”
Much like Davis’ experience with IB, Phillips said AP prepared her for the rigor of college coursework.
“Taking all those AP classes, preparing for the exams, that really transferred over to my college study habits,” she said. “It was really easier than I thought it would be, based on everyone warning me: ‘Oh, college is so different from high school.’ AP really helped and I was able to finish my first year of college with a 4.0.”