What lies behind Schreiber students’ innate competitive nature

Autumn Moon, News Editor

The Schreiber experience should be a conglomerate of exploration, experimentation, and learning. Although college is on the horizon, it should be something of excitement and possibility; it should be a choice, as well as an open opportunity, to seek further education in subjects teenagers love and want to perhaps pursue later in life. However, being a senior at Schreiber High School is not quite this experience. 

The school itself is not at fault for this reality – Schreiber provides a welcoming community for students, as well as many great options for achieving success; it supports students choosing the path that they decide suits them best. However, in the wake of junior year, students begin to feel an impending sense of pressure. This sentiment is felt by the majority, if not all, of students who are thinking about attending college in the future – which, of course, is highly expected within our community of Port Washington.

As the dreaded standardized tests roll around, ACT and SAT scores slyly creep into conversation. As clubs nominate officers, students wage war against one another like politicians. As the Common Application is released, essay topics and top school choices become highly classified information. But where does this savagery come from? Why does this climate of pressure and competitiveness regarding college exist? Who is to blame for students being pitted against each other over education? Why do students feel the need to get into only name-brand “top-tier” universities instead of exploring the university that supplies the best future for them?  

The answers to these questions delve into serious global issues and conflicts– ranging from humanity’s innate biological competitiveness, to the capitalist structure of the United States’ economy, to the overall increase in the amount of students vying for education after high school. Nonetheless, there are a few main reasons as to why this competitiveness is especially persistent at Schreiber. 

According the U.S. News and World Report, Schreiber High school is currently ranked the #8 best public high school in Nassau county, #33 best high school in New York State, and #224 best high school in the entire country.  These rankings have been decided utilizing data from approximately 20,500 public high schools in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

These incredible statistics prove how seriously our school takes the education of its students, as well as the eminence of the academic staff. However, because Schreiber has such a high-level school system, students feel immense pressure to maintain this level of excellence. For example, since there are so many AP courses at Schreiber, it is strongly suggested to take such classes since there are so many offered, and colleges like to see them on transcripts when students apply. Students thereby feel pressured to take as many AP courses as possible, especially when they see that other students are doing the same. Many times, this results in students filling their schedules with classes that they may not be able to handle or even truly enjoy, simply because the precedent at Schreiber is to take advanced placement courses if a student wants to attend a particular type of university.

“Our grade is very competitive in many aspects, especially when it comes to college,” said senior Osvalda Kremidha.  “We all feel pressured to get into what we perceive as our dream schools, and we set very high standards for ourselves, and so rarely keep an open mind. We also tend to get very caught up in other people’s acceptances and rejections. I personally feel a lot pressure about announcing the college I’m going to pick in the future; I’ve just heard so many comments among students regarding people’s decisions, and in the end, it should really be our private choice to make.”  

However, why shouldn’t a high ranking school system expect a lot from its students? It is arguably valid to say that some competition actually induces a healthy amount of stress. Yet, at Schreiber, the competition for college goes far past natural, and instead has a deleterious effect on students. When teenagers begin feeling the need to change who they are for the purpose of beating their peers, to achieve a four-year education they aren’t even sure that they want, there is definitely an existing problem present.  

The root reason for this enigma lies in Port Washington as a community, the budget of Schreiber and the Port Washington school district, and the wealth of the population of Schreiber compared to the rest of the nation. On May 15, 2018, Port Washington residents approved a $155,938,460 school budget. This whopping statistic reflects the wealth that exists within our community. This affluence, interestingly enough, happens to be a major cause of college competitiveness.

According to Forbes, students in the highest income bracket enroll in college at the highest rate, with 83 percent of recent high school graduates in the top quintile of the income distribution moving onto college. This fact is reflected clearly upon Schreiber. Since our high school exists in a town that has a median household income that is $122,050– greater than what is considered “middle class” in the United States– we have come to see that these high incomes greatly impact students and how they compete for college. 

First off, many families of students at Schreiber treat college as something that is an inevitable part of students’ futures. It is expected by many parents, who have had the opportunity to attend college themselves, that their children will also attend education after high school. Furthermore, many students’ parents have legacy at top tier schools, and so their children feel highly pressured to fill their shoes and continue the family legacy at a certain university. This increases pressure on Schreiber students, and prompts them to get highly competitive with their fellow peers for high positions in clubs, on teams, and in the classroom.

It is these high expectations paired with the existent wealth within our community that compels students to receive guidance outside of school college counselors, such as by seeking essay editors and numerous tutors for a variety of subjects, as well as the ACT and SAT tests. Disturbingly enough, students sometimes feel so pressured to attend a certain university that they have editors completely alter their Common App essays, or, even further, have the essays written for them. 

To add, students who are willing to pay can have as many tutors as they want for standardized tests, and can take these tests as many times as they want, until they get a score they see fit (as long as they don’t mind the $67 fee depending on if they are taking the exam with writing or without). It is undeniably the access to wealth that enables these privileges– if we look at other areas of the country, these types of acts are unheard of. 

This is not the fault of Schreiber students. Rather, it is the fault of the system we have created that defines success. Students feel such tremendous pressure to succeed because when they look around and see so much opulence within their beautiful Long Island town it can be overwhelming, and, quite frankly, highly intimidating. 

“Our school is extremely focused on not only going to college but also getting into prestigious schools. This may be the result of living in an affluent town where families are typically able to afford resources for students such as books, extracurriculars, volunteering, tutors, preparation programs, etc. Additionally, it has been shown that affluent parents will advocate for their children more in school to get extra help and resources. I believe this mindset is passed down to students at Schreiber, thus forcing a very competitive atmosphere,” said senior Julia Russo.  “I also think that there is this idea that prestigious and big-name schools are better, and will allow people to be more successful even though this is not the case. At least I believe that if you’re passionate, doing what you love, and hard-working, you will be successful– in whatever way you personally define success.”  

However, although the prosperity that exists in our community is used to students’ advantage, they are not to blame. It is highly tempting and extremely difficult to not use available resources in any dire situation, especially when these resources can guarantee you that 35 you need on the ACT to attend your dream Ivy League school. However, this wealth creates a domino effect; students who utilize means made available to them by fortune do better because they can, while other students who want the same success try desperately to keep up with people who have, to their dismayed realization, been given a 1,000 miles head start. 

This creates a chain reaction: students may be doing the best they can and what they feel comfortable with, but they feel pressured to keep up with their classmates who are constantly ahead. The gap that results is what creates the competitiveness present at Schreiber. Most students feel pressured to do what others are doing because they want the same opportunity for themselves, and so even if they are reluctant to run for that position in that club or take that extra ACT, they will feel like they need to do it because that is what their fellow students are doing.

“I definitely feel this pressure on a personal level. When choosing where I would ED, it came down to George Washington University and Cornell, and by just looking at the programs I preferred GW, but I felt myself leaning towards Cornell. I later realized this was because I was focusing on the superficial reasons of attending an Ivy League university,” said a senior who wishes to remain anonymous.  

Now, we should not put our lives on halt because these things exist in our society and at Schreiber. For now, they are aspects that are here to stay. Thus, it is precisely acknowledging these facts that is vital to being open minded, appreciative of our school, and easier on one another when we are applying to college.

College is not about being better than our neighbor, although that is the way we have been acting and, sometimes, the way we are taught to act. It is about growing up, learning to be a better person, receiving education, and morphing our future into whatever we want it to be– whether that is being a business mogul, an actress, a doctor, a writer, an artist, a teacher, or a stay-at-home parent. College is what we make of it, and so is the application process. 

Turning on our friends and classmates and thinking things like, “he/she has a better GPA then I do, I have to be better,” “he/she is running for president of this club, so I need to also,” “he/she does five clubs, I only do three,” will get us nowhere in life. We are all around 17, and that may not seem like much, but the decisions we make now will shape who we become in the future. As students, and as people, we should want to choose to be the type of person that supports our peers, even in the times when we ourselves may not succeed. It isn’t always about being the smartest, best, most attractive, or most athletic; sometimes it’s just about trying to be what we want to be.  

Four short years ago, the seniors currently applying to college were just 13. Think back to what made your world go round then. Think about the sights, smells, and visions of leaving childhood; about your transition from childhood to adolescence. Four years go by in a flash, like the blink of an eye. For seniors, four years from now means graduating college, moving on to adulthood, and entering the “real world.” Life moves quickly and time stops for no one; instead of wasting it on competition over four short years, we should be spending time doing things that we love, are passionate about, and make us truly happy. 

After all, life is what you make of it, and at every stage we progress through, how we interact with others will impact the future of not only us, but also everyone around us– our actions define who we are to the world. So, at seventeen, who do you want to be?