College application season can be the most stressful period of time for any high school student. The combination of regret for not doing better in school, doubt in your own chances of admission, and the fear of rejection is enough to break even the most stable students. Author Alexandra Robbins, however, realized that the stress of college admission starts well before, as well as lingers well after, the actual application period. Through her observations, she concludes that the current education system is transforming students into GPA-obsessed, narrow-minded beings, and that the stresses of applying to a so-called “prestigious” university have a multitude of negative side effects.
Her first argument concerns how colleges and the entire application system as a whole is systematically turning flesh and blood students into merely sets of numbers. She explains how students nowadays are only concerned about three numbers: their SAT scores, their GPAs, and their class ranks. She goes on to explain that the obsession with these three numbers is causing students to lose sight of what high school is really meant for; getting a sufficient learning experience while preparing oneself for the trials of college life. Instead, high school has become a mad dash for the best chances of being accepted into colleges. This trait is exemplified in AP Frank who, forcefully urged by his mother, took all 17 AP classes Whitman high have to offer, an inconceivable workload that required he skip his lunch period everyday. Going off on a tangent, Robbins also makes a point about the “no child left behind” policy and severely criticizes it for forcing teachers to focus more on test scores rather than actually teaching. Early in the book, Robbins personifies her aversion to turning students into numbers in the form of college admissions counselors. She believes that this group of people is the epitome of why the application systems are so flawed, and first puts forth this idea by introducing the reader to Julie’s college counselor, Vera. Vera is so obsessed about her personal image and is so convinced that Julie will never be accepted into her dream college based solely on her grades and test scores that she drops Julie as a client.
Robbins’ second argument that makes multiple appearances throughout the course of the book is the assertion that the high amounts of stress experiences by high school students today is actually deadly. In the quest to be accepted into a prestigious college, students today take workloads that at times is too much, causing them to mentally snap. In this case, an unimaginable workload is put onto AP Frank by his oppressive mother, which Robbins states is quite common in East Asian countries, but not all the overachievers have had their workload put onto them. Audrey, the perceived “Perfectionist” doesn’t necessarily have as many reasons to be stressed as some of her classmates, but her mental state of having to do everything perfectly causes her to be under unnecessary stress. For example, it wasn’t mandatory that she spend all of her weekends and free time constructing the perfect bridge for her physics class, but her tendency to always want to be the best made it so. She spent time in which she could have been relaxing or decompressing on working vigorously. The resulting stress has been known to cause student suicide rates to rise around the world. Back at home, Julie also feels the effects as she notices that her hair has begun to fall out. She dismisses it as merely the side effects of her academically demanding life, but what she fails to realize is that stress-induced symptoms are the first signs of serious permanent damage and an increased likelihood that she will one day mentally break.
Overall, Robbins points out increasingly detrimental flaws in our current education system, such as turning students into data and burdening them with potentially fatal workloads. She also presents the information in a sense that allows the reader to connect with the students of Whitman High on an emotional level, which, in the long run, better help the reader understand the severity of the situation.