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Pressure to Get Ahead This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

In elementary school, I defined summer as a cornucopia of brunches, re-runs on the Cartoon Network, and the innumerable tubs of ice cream in the fridge.

My summers were as carefree, lazy, and happy as any other eight-year-old in the world. I didn't really understand the need to go to a summer institution, or even attend a summer program at all. I would look forward to the bell on the last day of school, and dream of all of those sleepless days where I would stay up late to catch up on my favorite episode of Power Rangers.

However, during my later middle school years and early high school career, I started to notice that the playing field was quickly shifting from the intertwined playground of birthday parties and happy-face stickers into a quickly evolving competition of the best and brightest students. This change was ­inevitable, and became evident in both my life and those of my peers.

Weekends went from movies to tutoring classes, and 9 p.m. curfews to late-night cram sessions for the biology final. College admissions was no longer a distant vision, but an emerging test that would push everyone to their limits. And with a new and vigorous sea of students in this academic marathon comes a surprising new result from not only my fellow peers, but also their parents.

Moms and dads no longer take their children to the monthly movie night, but instead enroll their Ivy-League hopefuls in schools and classes that may cost thousands of dollars. No longer faced with three carefree months of relaxation, students now sit in a classroom for 70 days of summer vacation. Personally, I always thought tutors and classes were there to help you catch up on a course, but now they are to help you get ahead. Welcome to the secret life of high school students, and in my view, the modernized version of standardized cheating.

A good majority of students no longer rely solely on themselves for their academic success, but rather on hours of prep classes that are specifically designed to boost a test score by hundreds of points.

Why? My answer: competition. Parents and students nowadays would do anything to get a head start on the scholastic decathlon, and if “Johnny” is getting a higher score because he took a course, why can't I? However, not only are we programmed to achieve the best GPA and the SAT/ACT scores, but even extra curricular activities have taken a toll on a student's summer and life.

Volunteering is no longer a result of the kindness of our hearts, but from the idea of a college application investment. The beautiful hot days of June, July and August are spent in a studious and paid asylum, rather than gripping the future with our hands.

Now I understand that education is important, and a college degree can be a pivotal factor in one's life, but is all of this schooling really a result of a new type of cheating? Are we really supplying the future with strong, intelligent kids, or programmed ones who breeze through high school with hundreds of hours of prep classes?

“You are who you make yourself” is a slogan I live and breathe by, but is our success really fabricated or truly earned? Now, that is for you to decide.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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