Over the weekend, you may have read Allan Schwarz’s New York Times article, “Risky Rise of the Good-Grade Pill”, a fascinating article on many levels. As the CEO & Founder of CATES Tutoring in New York City with offices in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Westchester, and abroad in cities such as London, I personally have worked with hundreds of students – and CATES as a company thousands – from elite private schools in the New York area and all over the world. Our clients run the gamut: regular time, extended time, double time, 2400 caliber on the SAT test, students hoping to simply break 21 on the ACT test.
Some of our students, particularly those through Envision Test Prep, our specialized division for students with learning differences, receive prescriptions for Adderall, Ritalin, Concerta, et al and use them to great benefit in their work. However, we have at times come across the question of using performance-enhancing drugs (PED’s) for students who do not clinically require them. It’s obviously a controversial subject – as it should be – but, as I see it, the topic actually helps to crystallize the core issue: misplaced and uninformed expectations.
Over the course of the next few days, we’ll examine specific aspects of this article and lend some insight and guidance to help students and parents understand that a healthier attitude towards the US admissions process – whether you are from the Upper East Side, Scarsdale, or London – not only helps you succeed in the process, but also sets you up for success in your professional life.
The Pressure to Get Good Grades
Dear Students – Welcome to the real world! You should feel pressure to earn strong grades – the world is becoming more competitive – and you need to understand how to ask – and get – the best of yourself. With globalization and the technological revolution, the world your parents knew growing up is not the world you know now and will become even more different by the time you enter the professional world. Virtually every single job in America is at risk of being lost to someone else (yes, perhaps in Asia) and education will be the biggest advantage you have as you enter the 21st Century work force. So, yes, good grades do matter.
Each year, plenty of students handle multiple AP’s, extracurricular activities, and standardized tests successfully and have been for years. You’re not the first to go through the process, and you will not be the last. The college admissions process stands as a rite of passage for all of us, and all of us succeed in our unique way, let alone survive. It’s not easy, but its also exciting and can act as a gut-check on how serious you are about your ambitions. You will experience challenges – too many homework assignments in one night, 10-page papers due tomorrow, sports after school, Model UN conference this weekend – and you will have to find a way to excel at each one.
However, drugs aren’t the answer. PED’s – or any substance for that matter – act as only a short-term solution to a larger, longer-term challenge that most students – and particularly, their families – need to address: the definition of success.
Success in College
How do you define success in the college admissions process? To me, gaining entry to a college or university that best matches your personality and learning style epitomizes success in the college admissions process. And the truth is, we currently live in a sort of golden age for US university education. With the increase in the human population after the Baby Boom, the numbers of students applying to colleges each year has risen. Of course, schools aren’t adding enough beds each year to match the number of students applying. While the competition at the top has become so much more so, one of the larger benefits of this trend is that is it now possible to earn a top-notch education at more schools than ever before. Those top-notch students who get squeezed out of the most selective schools due to a simple numbers game are now helping to make the next tier of schools as good as the Ivy League schools were a decade or so ago. Thus, while the admissions process can be difficult, its never been easier to gain a top-flight university education.
For example, Northeastern University (NU) has seen its reputation rise; it’s considered a terrific school nowadays. Back in the mid-90′s, NU wasn’t seen as strong an academic environment as it’s seen to be now. If you were to look at the average SAT test score ranges for entering NU freshmen during that time period, few NU-bound students broke 1000 on their Verbal and Math sections. Today, NU-bound students score closer to the 1250-1300 range on their Critical Reading and Math sections of the SAT test. The difference between the student aiming for 1000 on the SAT and the student aiming for 1250-1300 can be significant, both in relation to the SAT’s and to the other aspects of their application.
College in the Age of Globalization
How important is it now to attend an Ivy League university to gain a top-flight education? Less than it meant years ago. In this age of globalization and technological innovation, where you attend college is becoming less and less important. Rather, how you make use of your college education (that is, if you even decide to go to college) is much more important, and its much easier to do so when you’re in an environment where you’re stimulated and challenged in a healthy way.
Yes, that could mean Harvard, but it also could also mean Northeastern. It’s up to you to discover and decide.