Magazine article Newsweek

The Rat Race Begins at 14: Stressed-Out Kids Aiming for Top Colleges Refuse to Slow Down

Magazine article Newsweek

The Rat Race Begins at 14: Stressed-Out Kids Aiming for Top Colleges Refuse to Slow Down

Article excerpt

Stressed-out kids aiming for top colleges refuse to slow down

The school day at New Trier High in Winnetka, Ill., runs from 8:10 a.m. to 3:20 p.m., but not many students settle for that wimpy schedule. The extra "early bird" science and music classes at 7 a.m. get a good turnout, and many kids study well past midnight. So you can imagine the shock when the high-powered students proposed canceling a precious day of classes last month to discuss--easing the cutthroat competition. The school brought in Alfie Kohn, author of "No Contest: The Case Against Competition," and some college-admissions officers to explain why applicants don't have to be superheroes. Did it help? "Kids say to me, `I thrive under the competition'," says James Conroy, a New Trier guidance counselor. "I don't think there are going to be dramatic changes."

If gatekeeping can be unfair, even demoralizing, to students excluded from the most challenging courses, it hasn't tamped down the runaway ambition of the highest achievers. Teachers and parents say that the increasing importance of AP exams--along with early admission programs and expensive SAT tutoring--has turned preparing for college into a four-year nightmare. Kohn calls the process of primping for Harvard "Preparation H," with all the discomfort that implies. "At some point, school is no longer about learning. It's merely about credentialing," he says. "Everyone loses from that transformation. "

The pressure is most intense now, with juniors preparing for SATs and seniors waiting for acceptance letters. Admissions deans would like to say that kids don't need to wear themselves out. But the fact is that top colleges have helped turn up the heat. As early admission has become almost required--Harvard accepted 1,048 early decision candidates for next year's freshman class of 1,650--students have less time to prove themselves. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.