The AP Cult

As soon as scheduling time rolls around, students rush to keep up with their peers and take as many AP classes as possible. However, soon, this directionless dash to greatness begins to catch up with them.


Sally Cho

Mr. Hildenbrand’s extensive collection of AP HuG-themed T-shirts serve as a badge of honor for the cult members.

“How did you do on the HuG test?” “Dude, I failed that HuG test.” “How hard was the HuG test?”

If you’re a student at NAI, you’ve probably heard these phrases before… or you’re probably the one saying it. 

If you’re not a HuG student, you might be wondering what “HuG” is because everyone talks about it all the time. You might also be a little annoyed because everyone talks about it all the time. 

HuG stands for AP Human Geography, one of the only AP courses offered at NAI. It is taught by Mr. Hildenbrand, or “Hildy,” and it is plaguing the lives of many students.

Everywhere I go, I hear someone talking about HuG. It could be in chemistry, English, chorus, whatever. Sometimes I feel like HuG follows me everywhere I go, as if it’s a cult. 

There is nothing that AP HuG kids love doing more than talking about the fact that they take AP HuG.

Even some AP HuG kids agree. “Lamenting about a HuG test is justified, but flaunting it everywhere you go is annoying. Some people do, not everyone,” stated John Dowd. 

Now, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a tinge of superiority when I get to talk about how I did on a HuG test or when I get to tell people what my grade is in HuG. I do feel intelligent, and like I’m a part of something that only “smart people” can get to participate in. 

“I would never directly say that I look down upon people but on the inside I do give them a side eye and a little judgment if they complain about world cultures work,” stated an anonymous HuG student.

But isn’t that a problem?

It seems that everyone nowadays, especially in such a competitive school district as North Allegheny, is obsessed with being the one who has the most workload and is the most stressed out and the one taking the hardest classes. 

It’s almost become bragging when we say we only got three hours of sleep last night because we were up all night studying for a HuG test. 

News flash everyone: Not getting enough sleep because you were studying too hard is not something to brag about. 

I know, I know, one of the only perks of taking a class like AP HuG is the fact that you can say you take an AP class. However, that just contributes to the toxic, workaholic, I’m-smarter-than-you culture we already have at NA. 

Of course, taking a hard class is something to be proud of and it does mean, in a sense, that you are more academically inclined than others. I think it’s great that people are challenging themselves to take harder classes.

But why are we so obsessed with the fact that we are in AP HuG? To the point where it starts affecting our other classes, to the point where it becomes our identity?

I have chemistry first period, and the first thing I hear is someone talking about the upcoming HuG test. The conversation stretches into homeroom. 

Then, I go to my English class, where we have a perfect view of Hildy’s classroom. People will gather by my seat, which is where the window is, to see what Hildy is up to today. One time, dozens of people literally SWARMED my seat just to get a glimpse of Hildy’s whiteboard, which I found genuinely appalling. Can’t you just wait until it’s your period to have HuG?

Next, I go to my French class where I see the traumatized looks on fellow HuG students’ faces when they come back from a test. Everyone gathers around the three people that had HuG the period before to ask them questions about the test until our teacher starts the class.

AP HuG seems to follow some people wherever they go, no matter what class they are in. If people are like this with one AP class, how are they going to be at NASH when they’re taking 4 AP’s at the same time? They’re letting it affect their concentration in other classes, as if HuG is the only class that matters. 

“Sometimes I’ll be talking about something very important and I’ll see a kid in the back looking at his HuG notes and I can’t blame them because they’re a part of the AP cult,” stated Mr. Hull, a 10th grade Honors English teacher. “I cannot continue to police this AP cult thing.”

It leads me to wonder, do people take AP HuG because they are genuinely interested in human geography, or solely for the “AP Factor”? 

Of course, there are people who are taking HuG for the right reasons and genuinely are interested in it. 

“Human Geography, anthropology, and foreign policy has always been interesting to me… and I just think this is a necessary class to help me truly understand the why and how of where we are,” stated Alok Shah.

But there are definitely also people who are just in it for the AP credit.

“I took AP HuG so I can put it on my transcript and for the AP credit. I have no interest in human geography,” stated an anonymous HuG student.

Although no one wants to admit it, I know that some HuG kids, deep down inside, like HuG even though they say they hate it on the outside. But they don’t like it because they like the class – they like it because they love complaining about how much they hate it. It makes them feel like they’re better than everyone else. 

“Oh, that HuG test was TORTURE!” proclaims an AP HuG student as they walk into their Honors Algebra class filled with people who take Academic World Cultures and Honors World Cultures. 

“Should I take AP HuG next year? Is it hard?” asks an innocent wide-eyed freshman.

“Oh, I mean, like, I spent SO many hours studying but I bet I got like… a low B. It’s hard and I spend so much time doing all the readings… It’s definitely nothing like Winschel or Lamm’s class. I hate it so much. I mean, all these readings! Don’t even get me started on Hildy!” The HuG student then goes off on a five minute tangent that does not actually answer the freshman’s question. 

…Seems like for someone who hates AP HuG so much, you love talking about it. 

The education system has created a culture where we let the College Board run our lives. High school shouldn’t be about taking as many AP’s as we can just to show it off to fellow students and impress the big bad wolves of college admissions.

The education system has created a culture where we let the College Board run our lives. High school shouldn’t be about taking as many AP’s as we can just to show it off to fellow students and impress the big bad wolves of college admissions. ”

Even Mr. Hildenbrand himself agrees. “If people do obsess over AP, they shouldn’t. AP is just another step in millions of steps you will take. You learn things, and you shouldn’t be upset that you’re learning them slower or faster than anybody else,” he stated. 

High school should be about finding our interests, our passions, and getting to explore them and make the most out of these last four years we have before we hit adulthood. 

Students need to understand and be taught that their lives will go on even if they get a C on a test or they don’t take 8 AP classes in high school. We need to be taught that how many hours we spent studying does not determine our worth.

Educators and students alike should be trying to break out of the AP cult mindset, and instead, strive towards making school a safe environment for students to try new things, mess up, and try again. 

Of course, these are not new sentiments.  Everyone knows that being part of an exclusive club is not a good reason to take a class, and it actually can be quite detrimental to learning. 

Despite this knowledge, it’s quite clear that many students continue to schedule classes because of how they’re seen.  How they’re seen by their peers, by colleges, by their parents, by themselves.  

Students ignore the many warnings by teachers and counselors not to fill their schedule with the most difficult classes for the sake of having the most difficult classes.

But after all, can you blame them? We have been growing up for the past decade being fed this mindset that we need to work hard, get good grades, go to a good college, and get a good job to be a happy and successful person. No wonder why some students’ self worth is based solely on their performance in school. 

Students put themselves through this pain because they feel that if they aren’t good at school… they’re nothing. 

Of course, there are students with passions like sports or the arts who may not put as much pressure on themselves academically because of that. But since the education system prioritizes grades, GPA, and standardized testing more than actually teaching kids to be functioning, well-rounded human beings, many are left without a passion or purpose other than school, leading to the vicious cycle of students taking the hardest classes possible and using that to define who they are as a person. 

Students face this pressure not only from teachers but from their parents and their peers, too. 

It’s time we fix how we view ourselves and others. People are different, and taking 5 AP classes, while it might be an interest to some people, isn’t something that makes everyone happy. Academics should not determine our worth or happiness, and it’s time that students, teachers, parents alike take this weight off our shoulders.