From High School to University: How AP Launched My Academic Career

Nov 24, 2021

By Maria Samman

As I reflect on my academic journey so far – with its amazing ups and often disheartening downs – I find myself realizing that everything started with my unparalleled holistic education at Sacred Heart. The personalized guidance, mentorship, and instruction I received from our amazing and dedicated teachers equipped me with the skills and knowledge I needed to navigate the turbulent waters of higher education. One of the most valuable and unique parts of my Sacred Heart education was the Advanced Placement (AP) Program.

Completing AP at Sacred Heart served as the perfect transition to my post-secondary journey. It gave me invaluable early exposure to the challenges of a university-like academic experience, yet it did so within the safe environment of small-scale classes which was starkly contrasted by my experience at the University of Toronto, where some classes had over 1,000 students.

When I moved from Halifax to Toronto in 2017 and away from my tight-knit Sacred Heart community, I was overwhelmed. Not only was I trying to start afresh in a new city, but I was juggling demanding university-level courses with heavy workloads while also trying to rediscover my extracurricular passions in an entirely new setting. Thankfully this initial — and what I have now come to realize totally natural — shock dissipated as I quickly came to realize that this fast-paced academic environment is exactly what Sacred Heart prepared me for.

In two distinct but equally important ways, my time completing the AP program was truly foundational to my ability to succeed in university.

Firstly, the calibre, range, and extent of material my AP classes covered was such that most of the content I learned in my first year was either review or manageable to grasp given the background knowledge I already had. This allowed me to ease comfortably into my new environment and was perhaps most apparent in Chemistry and Calculus. Despite how challenging I had found Mrs. Elworthy’s and Mr. Druker’s AP Chemistry when I was in Grades 11 and 12, I would often find myself digging for my notes from those classes the night before one of my first-year midterms and using them to review helpful strategies for problem-solving.

As for my experience in Calculus — arguably one of the hardest prerequisite courses for a Life Sciences degree — I was constantly reminded of how lucky I was to have taken AP Calculus with Dr. Hammond in Grade 12. Unlike many of my peers who were seeing a lot of concepts in differential and integral calculus for the very first time, I had already explored most of them. This goes to show just how well my Sacred Heart teachers prepared me for tackling higher-level academic material and how transferrable that knowledge was.

Secondly, completing the AP program at Sacred Heart gave me the unique opportunity of building truly indispensable skills and habits that can only be developed over time and with experience. Taking several advanced-level courses each year at Sacred Heart, I gradually learned how to manage my time effectively and how to appropriately balance and adapt my commitments as needed. Moreover, I gained early and regular exposure to the taxing nature of final exams, which allowed me to discover the best study tools and strategies that worked for me long before diving into post-secondary education.

The AP program also taught me how to cope with stress, a topic that is, unfortunately, often neglected in academia.

The AP program also taught me how to cope with stress, a topic that is, unfortunately, often neglected in academia. The demanding nature of university, including the ease with which workloads pile up and obstacles appear, is a daunting reality. However, by simulating these challenges early on, and with the help of patient and understanding teachers, the AP program at Sacred Heart exposed me to healthy stress and pushed me to identify ways to deal with it. I have been able to carry and apply these skills throughout my career.

When I was asked to write this blog post, my mind went in a hundred different directions trying to pinpoint all the wonderful experiences and lessons I took away from Sacred Heart. Hopefully, I have done many of them justice, but there remains one final and very special part of my AP experience that I must highlight as I know it will last me for the rest of my life.

For as long as I can remember, I have had a very science-oriented mind and I was intimidated at the prospect of tasks that involved heavy reading or writing. However, something about taking AP English Language and Composition with Mrs. McKay followed by AP English Literature with Mrs. McGuire completely transformed my outlook on critical analysis and composition. Under their mentorship, I not only gained a new-found love and excitement for a subject I once feared (leading me to take a full-year English Literature elective in university), I also gained an invaluable arsenal of skills that I have been able to apply to every aspect of my career, from critiquing a scientific paper, to editing someone’s work, to writing my own papers and essays, or in this instance, blog posts!

Completing the AP Program at Sacred Heart has had a very positive and long-lasting impact on my education and career. My amazing teachers never let me plateau and always built my confidence, encouraging me to be better and achieve better. They nurtured my growth, independence, and adaptability as a student, and ultimately set me up with the tools I needed to quickly overcome the steep learning curve of undergraduate studies. I am incredibly grateful for their commitment to student success, and I would strongly encourage anyone who is interested to take on the challenge and pursue the AP Program at Sacred Heart!