I understand the value of delayed gratification and hard work. Considering where I got my bachelor's degree, I don't need to justify that understanding. A difference, though, is that I knew what I was working towards. Additionally, I valued the education I was getting. I enjoyed (most of) the courses because I have a true love of learning. So many of my students take AP classes to punch a ticket, so to speak, to "get into a good school". Which good school? Well, many of them are from well-to-do families, so Stanford and some East Coast schools top the lists. And they do this at age 16? Sometimes I think they drive themselves, or their parents drive them, too hard. Yes, a teacher said that.
I don't believe in the term "over-achiever". That's a term that people who don't do as well apply to people who bust their hump to do well; it's a term meant to stigmatize, to cause the higher performer not to want to strive so much anymore. It's a stupid term--how could someone be over-achieving? Aren't they just achieving? I do, sometimes, question the cost of that achievement. Usually, though, that's a question I keep to myself. If students want to take courses at school (or their parents compel them to), for whatever reason, that's not my business. Again, though, I wonder why someone would put themselves (or their kids) in such a situation merely for potential gains of an indeterminate nature, the results of which students cannot even ever know--no one will get a college acceptance letter that says, "Because you took these 3 AP courses at once, you got in."
I wouldn't set a limit on the number of AP classes students can take--like I said, that's up to them and their parents. But I do sometimes think people should consider this "more is better" mindset a little more thoroughly. This post about AP and IB programs was written by a gifted student, one who obviously wanted something more from the courses than just a punched ticket.
Update: Perhaps here's part of the problem:
Many of us in college admissions have set standards that are so high, and we've been sending the message that kids need to be perfect. We get rewarded by U.S. News rankings for admitting those kids, and as a result we're caught up in it. The other piece is that we have a tendency to want kids to look alike. We want them to take so many AP classes, we fixate on the scores, and oh, by the way, they should have so many activities and they should also be leaders. They get headaches, or migraines, or stomach problems — all the classic signs of stress — because the adults in their world are holding them to such a high standard. There's no room to fail.
Of course it's that way if you're only trying to get one of the few slots at Stanford, Princeton, the University of Chicago, and MIT. UC Riverside, or even nearby UC Davis, aren't as stressful, and you still get a good education at most UC campuses. If you're a Marxist, you'll get a "good" education at the rest of the UC schools!