In my last post about success factors, I talked about the glimpse I got into the homework load of a student taking advanced classes at a moderately competitive high school. It started me wondering, is there a reason for high school students to have tremendously heavy workloads?
At the time, my kids were still in elementary school. Their homework load usually wasn’t unreasonable. There were a few times that it did get heavy, but there were always parents who complained louder than we did, and for the most part things worked out fine. But I continued to think about how we were going to tackle high school. (And I noticed that I just said “we,” just like the mom talking about how “we” had homework to do. Still, this isn’t doing our kids work.)
What I found was that common “wisdom” seems to be that to get into college you have to take all the Advanced placement courses (AP courses) your school offers, be involved in multiple extra-curriculars (and preferably be an officer in many of them), do community service (even better if you start your own charity), and play a sport. You need all that to show that you’re a serious student who’s still a well-rounded person.
Does that make you a well-rounded person, or just exhausted?
In the blog posts, his philosophy is best summed up by this quote from his post about what the blog Study Hacks is about:
“… reject the idea that doing well in school requires stressful overwork, and instead promote a philosophy of simplicity: do less, but do what you do much better.”
As someone who always tried to excel at everything I did, I found this idea appealing. What was the appeal? Well, I’m not convinced that my own path was the best way. And the stress of homework load and difficult classes in high school seems to have only intensified since I was in school. I can’t imagine being even more stressed out than I was.
To back up this claim, there are a lot of posts about kids who got into top-notch schools and got top scholarships, not by doing more activities and winning more awards than all the other applicants, but by pursuing a passion and becoming an interesting person.
Some of those posts are:
Want to Get into Harvard? Spend More Time Staring at the Clouds: Rethinking the Role of Extracurricular Activities in College Admissions – How an exceptional student got into a competitive college without being exceptionally over-worked.
Case Study: How Could We Save This Ridiculously Overloaded Grind? – How an impressively over-loaded student might streamline their workload and still look impressive.
How to Get Into Stanford with B’s on Your Transcript: Failed Simulations & the Surprising Psychology of Impressiveness – Analyzing what it really takes for a student to stand out. (Hint: it’s not just making your list longer and your grades higher.)
These posts and other information I was hearing made me start thinking that our top achieving high school students aren’t running a race. Instead, they’re on a treadmill.
And someone keeps increasing the speed.
Everyone is so desperately trying to keep up, that most have failed to notice that they’re not getting anywhere.
We haven’t been through the college admissions process yet. Do you have any experiences you could share about AP loads and college admissions? Leave a comment!