How to Help Your AP Student Manage Academic Stress

For high-achieving high school students, Advanced Placement® (AP®) courses are an important part of competitive college applications and admission to the college of their choice. Although AP® courses do provide students with a number of benefits, the pressure and stress can also become overwhelming and potentially counterproductive if not managed correctly. The good news is that it is possible for AP® students to pursue AP® courses and a rigorous academic curriculum without suffering from major burnout. The key is to create a balanced schedule, find healthy coping mechanisms to manage stress and anxiety throughout the school year, and make room for less rigorous but equally rewarding activities to help balance the workload.

The Benefits of Advanced Placement® Classes

The biggest advantage of taking Advanced Placement® classes in high school is that students are essentially getting early preparation for college coursework, increasing their likelihood of success at the college level. For academically gifted and high-achieving students, AP® courses keep them challenged and engaged. According to the Princeton Review, taking AP® courses can strengthen a student’s GPA, bolster high school transcripts and make a positive impression on college recruiters. They can even save your family money by earning early college credits and potentially getting general education requirements out of the way, depending on the university and course of study the student chooses.

But parents of AP® students should be aware of one possible downside of Advanced Placement® courses—extra stress. A recent study by the Institute of Education Sciences reports that students “enrolled in rigorous college preparatory programs such as Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate (AP-IB) classes” may experience more stress than students taking general courses. To avoid this added stress and burnout and truly get the most out of Advanced Placement® courses, AP® students and their parents need to plan carefully and be strategic in choosing courses and managing the workload in order to be successful and enjoy their educational experience.

5 Ways to Minimize Academic Stress

Every student is different and copes with stress and the demands of a rigorous schedule in different ways. Parents who take an active role in their children’s education can help them to stay engaged and focused by figuring out what works best for their individual needs. University of South Florida education professors Shannon Suldo and Elizabeth Shaunessy-Dedrick, who have been conducting research on stress management and high-achieving students for more than a decade, identified these five strategies in their studies that successful students have used to cope with academic stress.

1. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

“Remember, these are only 14-year-old kids,” Shaunessy-Dedrick told Education Week. “These things might be second nature to adults, but kids need coaching because they are basically taking college courses at younger ages, before they’ve developed problem-solving skills. We have to teach adult-level skills to kids taking adult-level classes.”

2. Develop a Healthy and Realistic Perspective and Outlook

Perfectionism and lack of experience in setting healthy boundaries can add to the strain of academic pressure to perform. Reminding students that it isn’t necessary to take AP® classes in every single subject is a good place to start. Prioritize the most important subjects according to their strengths and interests, and encourage them to pursue activities and subjects that will help to build new skills in different areas.

3. Diversify Extracurricular Activities

Finding time to join the school band, take a dance class, or join the debate team might seem counterintuitive and downright impossible, but data has shown that students who participate in at least 10 hours of extracurricular activities every week report being happier and more successful academically.

4. Stay Active and Social

Healthy social connections and regular exercise are especially important for teenagers, and can help them to effectively manage stress, anxiety, and depression.

5. Practice Time-Management and Prioritization

Professors Suldo and Shaunessy-Dedrick identified time management skills as one of the most important factors for academic success and lower stress levels among students. “What we come up with is you have to structure your time differently when you are involved in activities, so you learn to become a better time manager.”

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