Disclaimer: This post is intended as pragmatic advice, not rebuke. Please don’t misconstrue anything herein as nastiness. This blog is still a big love fest, and any appearance otherwise is simply a result of a temporary inarticulateness. Promise.
The point of this post isn’t to preen, though. It’s to point out that that I graduated, ran a summer victory lap that went horribly awry, and then matriculated to Brown, where I had to adjust very quickly to a new peer group. At Brown, nobody cared that I was valedictorian back home. About half of my friends had been, too, and many more had acquitted themselves well at high schools whose rigorous curricula put my own’s to shame. I struggled more in that first semester than I ever had in an academic setting, and than I ever have since. It was a semester-long lesson in humility and the nature of truly hard work.
After you graduate, it matters very little how you compare to the small group of peers in your high school class. When you apply to a competitive school, you’re pitted against everyone else who applies. The more competitive the school, the more competitive the applicant pool will be. Admissions officers do their best to admit the best class possible, based on the incomplete set of data they have in the form of innumerable applications, and what unknowable directives they have from their bosses*. This should go without saying, but it won’t matter whether you view the process as “fair.”
If you’re a straight-A student, if you’re smarter than all the other kids in your Spanish class, then congratulations. You’re a big fish in your small pond, and that’s commendable. But if you rest on your laurels, you do so at your own peril. Because many of the other big fish in the other small ponds continue to work hard, and those will be your peers in due time. Like it or not, all those other big fish are going to take the SAT, same as you. And the aforementioned admissions officers, for better or for worse, are likely to take their SAT scores into consideration alongside yours when they make their decisions.
It’s within your power, to an extent, to control how you’ll size up when that time comes. You can choose whether to
- prepare fiercely, go toe-to-toe and blow-for-blow with the test, and walk out of the test center afterwards satisfied that you gave it your best effort, or to
- sit back, relax, and hope you do well.
If you choose the former, I welcome you to this site with open arms. Leave comments; ask questions; use me as a resource as you prepare. That’s what I’m here for.
If you choose the latter, I hope the test goes well for you. I really do. I hope you’re as big a fish as you think you are. But please know that if it doesn’t go well, your mediocre scores probably aren’t indicative of any systemic unfairness inherent to the test. They simply mean that, to be where you want to be in the giant pond that contains all high school students, you’re going to have to work a little harder than you do to be be acing APUSH. So…whatcha gonna do?
* For more on this process, read John Carpenter’s Going Geek.