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SAT Scandal Raises Questions About High School Pressure

Harris Mayersohn |
September 28, 2011 | 1:23 p.m. PDT

Staff Contributor

(Newton Free Library)
(Newton Free Library)
Sam Eshaghoff, a 19-year-old sophomore at Emory University, was arrested for allegedly accepting cash payments to take the SAT for six students at his alma mater, Great Neck North High School – one of the top-rated high schools in the nation.

Great Neck North officials said they were appalled and reminded the public that all cheaters will face serious consequences while applauding the decision to hold the accused students legally accountable.

Having graduated from a top-rated, overly competitive, private high school only two years ago, I sympathize with the six accused Great Neck North students. While the media will undoubtedly portray these students as slackers who tried to cheat their way into top colleges, I will know the truth: These students just could not take the pressure any longer and cracked.

I have met a large number of students at the University of Southern California who were only one of fifteen students who somehow managed to graduate from an overcrowded public high school and attend a non-community college. I always hear about how few kids even consider going to college an option at these kinds of schools. It never gets any easier to hide my surprise when I hear about these stories.

Understand, in my graduating high school class of 140 students, 139 went to non-community colleges and universities, with about 40 of them ending up at ‘ranked’ top 20 schools. Sophomore year on, I had at least one daily conversation with teachers and advisors about what schools I wanted to attend. Not going to college was never an option.

In order to get into one of the colleges I talked about wanting to attend on a daily basis, though, I needed to do well on the dreaded SAT exam. Hours upon days upon weeks were devoted to SAT practice exams and classes. I never needed to truly understand the material on the test, but at least know it well enough to get the answers right on the standardized exam.

At the beginning of junior year, the U.S. News & World Report annual college rankings became my bible. I had the top-30 schools memorized back and forth. More importantly, I knew the scores I needed to get in.

Competitive students categorized their supposed peers and friends by their SAT scores. Lesser students feigned apathy so as to not be embarrassed when they did not apply to out-of-state schools. Everyone had their own coping mechanisms to deal with the teacher, parent, and advisor manufactured pressure and resulting stress.

Any two students – regardless of any friendship status – applying to the same school became bitter enemies.

Minority students who got into top schools were always tagged with an affirmative action footnote by the white students who were rejected.

Most students refused to even share their SAT scores with close friends in an effort to escape judgment. Obviously, it was just assumed that these students had bombed the test and would not get into their top-choice schools – unless, of course, their top choice was a putrid state school – meaning they would never amount to anything in life beyond flipping burgers.

I am not embarrassed to admit that after being denied admission to my first-choice university. I spent multiple nights crying to my mom in fear that I had ruined my life because my SAT scores were too low, my courses were too easy, and my extracurricular activities were too commonplace. However, I am embarrassed for the teachers, advisors, and particular parents of friends at my high school that never sat down a student – like me – on the verge of a college-related breakdown and told them everything would work out for the best.

I saw some of my classmates ruin themselves by relying upon unprescribed Adderall and using excessive underage drinking and drug use to cope with the unbearable stress and anxiety of getting into college.

I guarantee that the teachers, advisors, and particular parents like the ones at my high school and Great Neck North think they are helping students by pressuring them to do their best so they get into top colleges. Unfortunately, these well-intentioned ignoramuses are too blinded by the prestige of Ivy League degrees and “My Son Goes to Stanford”-bumper stickers to put students’ mental health first.

Yes, these six students made a terrible decision that they will forever regret. I do believe they should be held accountable for their lack of common sense. I refuse to believe, though, that the six students thought this was a good idea. They paid someone else to take the SAT for them out of desperation.

Honestly, I could care less how many psychiatrists and stress counselors work at Great Neck North to help students cope with the stress of college admission and student competitiveness. There needs to be a new culture at high schools like my alma mater and Great Neck North, which encourages students to (as cliché as it may sound) try their best, support their peers, and not be afraid to admit when they feel overwhelmed with stress. 

In regard to college admissions, students, parents, and faculty at all competitive schools across the nation need to put things in perspective. Nobody wants students burning out before they even make it to college. If everyone tones it down a little bit, incidents like the one at Great Neck North will not happen.

When it comes to college, believe that everything works out for the best.




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