On Being from a High School That’s in The Top 10 for SAT / ACT Scores

BusinessInsider recently did a very interesting article (accompanied by a great infographic) on the Top 25 high schools in the nation with the highest SAT / ACT scores — and I am somewhat proud to say that I went to one of these schools. I feel like I should tell my personal story on maybe why at least half of the top ten has student bodies that are over 50% Asian.

Most of our parents were first generation immigrants and they worked super hard to buy a house here and immigrate to America, and the mindset of “Work off your ass especially in education” was passed onto their kids.

The competition at my school was definitely rigorous and stressful. The top 10% of my grade had 3.99+ GPAs, we had 30 or so Valedictorians, and people scrambled to get leadership positions so they would look good on college applications. In fact, people created clubs just so they could have leadership positions. To say the competition to get into college was intense is somewhat of an understatement.

I at least was taught from a young age that college was the ticket to a successful future. We worked extremely hard for college applications, to the point where college acceptance season felt like some sort of sport game (“Can you believe so-and-so got into Stanford?!”). Some of my classmates took Adderall for important bio tests, while others dropped out due to the pressure, and many others fell into depression due to their inability to keep up with their 5+ AP classes.

As far as cheating goes, we helped each other as any other high schoolers would, but cheating was the gravest offense at my high school. There was no gang fights, or stealing, or violence. Cheating could get you a 0 in a class on the first try, which is a death sentence for your college apps.

As for other things… Everyone shelled out thousands of dollars for college counseling. If you didn’t have a college counselor, how could you compete with your classmates into getting in a good college? That was the mindset. My parents spent $2,000 on an SAT boot camp for me, and another $3,000 on someone to read over my college essays. My counselor did not write my essays for me, and neither did she suggest what to write. She was just an editor, the same as if you went to your English teacher… Except paid. And I’m not even going to talk about all the other supplemental classes: the SAT II camps, the college courses, the AP tutors, chemistry tutors, ACT tutors. It was endless and expensive, but my parents were determined for me to get into an excellent college.

There are rumors of certain kids who paid editors the upwards of $20,000 to write their Ivy League essays, but those are very few. At least from where I am from, most of my classmates where thrown into countless tutoring and long, long all-nighters trying to finish AP homework. We weren’t cheaters, but the pressure put onto us from our parents and environment was immense and caused us to work super hard to get into the best colleges possible.

Was it worth it? You tell me:

We have well over 25+ people going to UC Berkeley this year and at least 1 student at every Ivy League (some of them have as much as 3). Several are at Stanford. Some others went to John Hopkins, CMU, Rice, MIT, UCLA, the Claremont colleges. Generally people who fall in the mid-tier range of my school distribute around UC San Diego, NYU, UC Davis, and UC Irvine. Only a couple of my class of 400 opt to go to community college if it’s not for money purposes — often my dad threatened me that community college was for losers and failures (I was considering going to save money and transfer out to Cal or UCLA for 2 years but that was socially unacceptable).

As for paying for the college tuition, the area we live in has a very high housing cost because of all the inflated standardized scores the schools have. Most of the families have more than one child, so even if the family is making $150k+ a year, that’s only enough to live in a modest house and to live comfortably with 2 – 3 kids. Paying for college: parents usually pay for 1 or 2 years worth of tuition at a state college ($50k-$60k), and then we have to take out loans. If it’s a private college then you take out loans immediately, usually.

The problem is, most of the families here are in the odd position that their income is enough to live relatively ok in this particular area, but by other standards our income is really high so we can’t qualify for financial aid even though we can’t exactly pay for our full college tuition either. Parents literally dig themselves into debt to get an education for their children.

As for how I did?

My GPA was below 3.7, in the 60th or so percentile of my school. My ACT score was 35. I did several extracurriculars. In the end I went to a pretty good state college by the skin of my teeth (got wait listed), but I didn’t even bother applying to any Ivy Leagues. Which disappointed my parents, but they gave up on me long before that.

Looking back, I’m not sure if it was a positive or negative experience, but it was definitely something that has taught me much self-discipline and I could not have gotten where I am today without the influence of my parents and my school.¬†Ironically, I’m doing better in college than I ever did in high school.


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