by Alexandra Robbins
A must read for anyone who has a high school student preparing for the college search process in The Overachievers, by Alexandra Robbins. Robbins goes back to her alma mater, Walt Whitman High School, in the prestigious town of Bethesda, Maryland, to follow juniors, seniors and one alum who headed to Harvard for college. Robbins chooses a cross section of students – the nerds, athletes, social-conscious, the tease, and the popular kids. The chapters follow the timeline of the academic year over the course of sixteen months, introducing the various issues that students face in the college search process. Of all the stories, I appreciate Robbins’ inclusion of “APFrank”, the student who had just graduated from Walt Whitman, was moving on to Harvard and had a younger brother attending the same high school. Robbins discusses the role of hired consultants to assist with the college process, the pressures of getting accepted to the “Ivy” institutions, the challenges of SAT prep, the peer pressure involved in alcohol consumption, finding a date for the prom, balancing academics and extra-curricular activities, and so much more. Robbins concludes the book with where each of the students got accepted and how they made their decisions – well, decisions were made for some students who didn’t get into Stanford, Yale and Princeton. Robbins’ best contribution is her suggestions to high schools:
Delay schools start times (start later, let kids sleep more); drop class rank (stop the competition!); de-emphasize testing; provide less competitive alternatives; assign and enforce coordinated departmental project and test days; increase awareness of self-harming behaviors; limit AP classes (yes!); and reinstitute recess time (too many overachievers take classes during lunch)
Robbins also suggests that colleges should:
Boycott the rankings; scrap the SAT; eliminate early decision; prioritize mental health concerns: send a message of what is important (well-rounded students!).
She has advice for high school counselors:
Focus on the student, not on the schools
And what should parents do?
Limit young childrens’ activities; get a life; schedule family time; place character above performance
And finally, what should students do with the support of their parents:
Stop the guilt; adjust the superstar mentality; carve an individual path; ignore the peanut gallery and accept that name doesn’t reflect ability; pare down activities, take a year off after high school; try an unrewarding activity; reclaim summer; accept that admissions aren’t personal; take charge
As you can see, a great list. Pick up the book and enjoy reading what it is we should be doing for our high school students.