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MERCERSBURG (Oct. 22) — Mercersburg Academy is taking steps to move beyond the Advanced Placement (AP) designation.

Administrators hope the move encourages innovation and rigor while giving students a chance to explore creativity and depth of topics both in and out of the classroom. Faculty and administrators have vetted and researched the changes over the past two years,

The academic team has recommended that Mercersburg move beyond the AP designation in 2020-2021. The move will allow innovation within courses across the curriculum, they say. Not all classes will be radically different. Many faculty members may choose to keep their same course structure. They will have more liberties in their courses by not teaching specifically for an exam. 

Mercersburg will replace current AP course titles with a new designation called “Advanced Studies.”

For example, a course formerly titled “AP Chemistry” will become “Advanced Studies in Chemistry.” The new designation indicates it is the highest level of that subject offered at Mercersburg Academy.

Students can still take AP exams. Those who succeed in “Advanced Studies” classes will be prepared for the AP test should they choose to take it.

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It’s about more than just reimaginIng today’s curriculum, Head of School Katie Titus said. Instead, it’s about reimagining education to ensure students are being prepared for a complex, changing world.

“This decision provides our talented faculty with maximum flexibility to build new and innovative courses that will better serve current and future Mercersburg students,” she said.

Creating Flexibility for Classroom Innovation

According to John David Bennett, dean of curricular innovation, the move away from AP will create the room and flexibility for innovation in the classroom. 

“We want to innovate, and moving away from Advanced Placement isn’t an innovation in and of itself,” says Bennett.

She said today’s schools have to adapt to match the demands of the 21st century. They need a curriculum that prioritizes creativity, curiosity, and the audacity to become emergent leaders, she said.

Jennifer Miller Smith, the school’s dean of academics and a member of the science faculty, said students can expect more opportunities for experimental learning with the revamped classes.

That could include travel and off-campus field experiences that wouldn’t be possible with the standard AP curriculum.

Introduced in the 1950s, students taking AP classes can receive college credit if they pass the AP exam at the end of the class. Some students complete undergraduate degrees early.

But many colleges and universities require that students take the course again, even if they’ve taken the AP course and scored well on the AP exam. 

Julia Stojak Maurer, associate head of school for school life at Mercersburg, says students can feel obligated to enroll in AP classes for the sake of their transcript. As a result, she said, they sacrifice time they could use exploring other areas of interest.

Many times, those other things are just as compelling to prospective colleges as a transcript filled with AP classes.

The Move Away From the AP Standard

Mercersburg is not the first college-prep school to make this switch.

In recent years, schools across the country have opted to move beyond AP in their advanced courses. The idea is to free up students to spend focused time on experiential projects, explore new content areas, and conduct field studies to prepare them for college. 

Ultimately, college admission offices want to know that students are challenging themselves at the highest level during their high-school careers.

Mike Conklin, director of college counseling at Mercersburg, says that colleges evaluate a student’s transcript, and the rigor of their curriculum, within the context of the school they attend.

“Through our various conversations with faculty and administrators at secondary schools that have already moved beyond the AP, none reported an adverse impact on college admission,” Conklin says. “In fact, college-admission personnel have consistently affirmed the value of the dynamic learning that takes place in non-AP courses.”

Maurer said the question isn’t whether applicants have taken AP courses, but if they have taken advantage of their high school’s most challenging courses.

“Every college we’ve talked to has indicated that they want to know that students have challenged themselves while they’ve been at Mercersburg,” he said.

Mercersburg Academy is excited about what this will mean for the community as it looks forward to more depth and creativity in the curriculum, according to its news release.

More information about the decision can be found at

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