(July 17, 2002)

As a parent of a 17-year-old who attends a viciously competitive Peninsula public high school, I know all too well how high the college admissions bar has been raised. The stat’s are scary. Take UCLA, where the average high school GPA for students admitted to this fall’s freshman class was 4.23, when honors and AP classes are graded on a five-point scale. At Berkeley it’s 4.18. Stanford could have filled its freshman class five times over with students who had GPAs of 4.0 and higher. When top-tier schools are this picky, the bubble of applicants gets pushed down and other, formerly less selective colleges become much more difficult to get into as well.

An article in the New York Times more than a year ago noted that some colleges are realizing they’ve inherited a generation of burned-out young people. Still, their admissions offices continue to tell students to take as rigorous a high school curriculum as possible, which means loading up on honors and AP classes. (That is, of course, how students get above a 4.0.) They are also expected to excel outside the classroom – sports, music, community service – which takes time, and get good scores on SATs, which requires preparation. No wonder these teenagers suffer from sleep deprivation, caffeine overload, and stress-related illnesses during the school year.

And are they getting a break this summer? Not likely. Some are off on expensive “save the world” resume-building programs. Others have signed up for almost-as-pricey SAT prep classes. My daughter and many of her friends are taking a required senior course, Economics, in summer school so they’ll have more time to tackle those honors classes and college applications come fall. She is also taking an evening photography class at the community college. The school she’s most interested in specifically recommends enrolling in a college course the summer between junior and senior years. But more than that, this class allows her to pursue her passion for photography. Passion doesn’t show up on those University of California GPA and SAT charts, but for me, it’s what I want most to see in my daughter, and what I hope will survive through this crazy college application year.

With a Perspective, I’m Debbie Duncan.