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May 28, 2008

Worst Year for High School Students

An article in the Wall Street Journal last Saturday talks about how the increasing competitiveness of college admissions has made high school junior year a crucible of academic pressure for many students aiming for Ivy League colleges. It seems that many high school students are living stressful lives, putting in more hours of school and extra-curricular activities just to keep up with college admission requirements and polishing up an impressive résumé to get into an elite university. Parents are influencing this trend in both good and bad ways.

Do you agree with the article? Are the students profiled in the article a minority or the majority? Who is responsible for this trend, the children or the parents? What kind of worldview are the children and their parents reflecting?

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Researcher Jean Tvenge made much hay of this issue in her book "Generation Me."

The increasing competitiveness is limited to the Ivy League colleges and is such an obvious eventuality why is it a story? The number of Ivy League colleges remains constant while the population will continue to increase, therefore the acceptance rates will ALWAYS trend lower. Big deal.

The broader picture paints a different story. Over the last three decades, college enrollment has soared both in real numbers and as a percentage of youths in the 18-24 age group:


So it's actually easier to get into college, and more are attending than ever before.

Who or what is responsible for the hypercompetitiveness? Human pride. The pursuit of fame and prestige. Bragging rights. Ivy League colleges probably do jump start one's career, but only because of the connections one is able to develop and the cachet of their name. The quality of education they provide is no better than, and possibly much worse than, less exalted competitors.


As someone who just graduated from high school last year, I think this article is completely accurate, at least of my experience. The situation may vary depending on who you're friends are, but most of my friends were also in AP classes and thus were just as busy as me.

Even though senior year is supposed to be the fun one, I found it at least as stressful as junior year because of the college application and decision process.

I had some friends whose parents would not accept anything less than an A, and others who mostly motivated themselves. I think the school was also partly responsible because even in freshman orientation it told us to get involved with activities so we could get into a college. Also, overachievers tend to clump together and start comparing grades and activities, which leads to even more pressure to excel.

I don't particularly like Steve's analysis that the competitiveness comes from human pride, but I can't really argue with it. It's the same drive that causes some people to seek promotion after promotion or to work overtime to earn more money. As a high school student, "success" is mostly measured by grades and by getting into college. Even Christian students can forget that their worth comes from being made in God's image, rather than from success and prestige.

Jason Taylor

It is not all pride. It is also self-preservation. Ones status indicates ones ability to support oneself and ability to marry. There are reasons for seeking status besides pride. In any case labeling all competitiveness as pride makes it a sin to play chess.
Also it might be considered that Jesus' first miracle was for the purpose of saving someone from social humiliation.
And finally one might consider that their are perils both ways. Sloth is a sin too even if not as great as pride.


You may be reading a little too much into what I said - I did specifically say HYPERcompetitiveness. (Though you might keep in mind the first documented murder arose from competition between brothers). As a balance to the piece above, though, one should also note that it does apply only to a select minority. The overwhelming complaint coming from colleges is that entering freshmen are UNDERprepared for college work.

I would love to see more attention and commentary on the sin of sloth, though. It has certainly attained status as one of the "acceptable" sins.


As a sophmore in highschool, I can tell you that I already feel this stressed and I know next year will be worse. I attend a highly competitive prep school. Because of lack of sleep and dependency on unhealthy "fast" food, every time finals rolls around, many get sick and atleast one person ends up in the hospital because of an illness. I don't find the timing coincidental...

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