I have come to realize the older you get, the more you are aware of what happens around you. When I started my freshman year in high school, I wanted to know what highly successful high school girls did to achieve great success. After high school, paths to success are drawn and a select few are granted a golden path, while some are given a rocky path. I read “The Millionaire Mind”, by Thomas J. Stanley, and thought I would take a similar approach to search for commonalities between highly successful girls who are currently attending elite colleges in the United States.
This is, by its nature, a scientific study, but more a quest of curiosity. Are there, in fact, commonalities that are tied to successful high school girls, in particular? I devised a questionnaire and ended up interviewing 460 elite college students to find out what decisions, activities and academic prowess they had during high school. My initial approach was to only talk to about 20 students, but once I conversed with one student, she quickly put her suite-mates on the phone with me. They, consequently, referred me to other friends in the highest ranked colleges in the United States; hence the 460 interviews. I received and narrowed responses from students in the following notable colleges: Harvard Law School, Washington University in St. Louis, Princeton, Yale, Harvard College, Columbia, Penn, NYU, Duke, Dartmouth, Stanford, MIT, Cal Tech and the University of Chicago. The results are fascinating, yet somewhat predictable. After six months of interviewing and compilation, I have found the following commonalities:[adToAppearHere]
1. A Strong Support System while Growing Up – 98% of respondents told me that they had a very supportive family or parent that was involved in their education and their school. An effective learning environment was integral and the support network was always there to pick up the slack when schoolwork became overwhelming, allowing them to achieve.
2. Expectations Were Clearly Defined – Most respondents told me they knew what was acceptable and what was not in their homes. Education was stressed in their households but crazy behavior, heavy partying, drinking, being suspended and the like, were not tolerated. They knew they had to have self-sacrifice and the bigger picture was well worth it.
3. Felt the Need to Achieve More than their Classmates – Every single respondent mentioned this in the interview. When they achieved success, it drove them to greater achievements. They also mentioned a feeling of “superiority”; not that they were better than their classmates, but indoctrinated by their families to achieve more and achieve successes greater than their counter-parts. The fact that they all felt that they still had many more hoops to jump through to realize their goals, was mentioned by the majority of respondents.
4. None were Tutored to Compete with their Classmates – They all conveyed to me that the cream quickly rises to the top in these colleges. They all noticed their friends in high school that were tutored just to compete with them, were able to get into great colleges by doctoring their resumes, but ended up in the middle-bottom or bottom of their classes. The respondents were self-driven and told me stories of sitting in their rooms working out a problem for hours, but eventually figuring it out themselves. They all got grades higher than their classmates. The successful student can look at a problem and figure out a solution, the tutored child needs to be told the first step before she can solve it. Independent critical thinking skills as the key to high achievement, was greatly stressed. Many of their classmates continued to use their tutors throughout college, as well, and elite graduate schools were not an option for them. The respondents were grateful that the educational system filtered out the students who were independent learners from those that were using tutoring as a crutch to succeed.
5. Actually Do their own Work – This touches upon the previous section. Those students that were continuously tutored in high school, tended to use their tutors in college to review and even write their mid-term and final essays. Those students that actually took the time to research essay topics and did all the required reading did better than their counterparts, according to the students. They also related they were also able to gain research positions with greater ease because they believed the interview cinched their actual knowledge and hard work over the students that didn’t put in the time. When it came to competitions for awards, honors and scholarships, the independent workers fared much better, according to the students. One respondent mentioned that independent thinking and debating are mainstays and you quickly notice those who are in the game and those who sit on the sidelines.
6. No Such Thing as Luck – Luck equates to hard work. These students didn’t get to where they were by “luck” or by “being lucky”. That perception may be there for the casual observer, but they all knew it was their hard work. These are the students that stayed up until midnight or later to finish their homework, sacrificed television and Saturday mall shopping escapades with their friends. These students worked harder than their peers and they know that’s why they are successful. They don’t take this for granted and their families also attribute their success to their hard work paying off.
7. They Don’t have Helicopter Parents who Micromanage their Lives – They are independent young women whose parents have put their faith in their daughters. They micromanage themselves and admitted they stayed up well past midnight in high school finishing all their homework. The students related their families helped pick up the slack in terms of household chores, as they realized the academic burden that was placed on them.
8. Extra-Curricular Activities were Selectively Chosen – These students told me they didn’t waste their time with activities that took up a lot of time without district, state, national or international recognition- unless they were the focus of their studies. A journalist major related she took theater and additional writing classes in high school because she wanted to show her interest in writing scripts early in the process. She also entered many writing competitions and won national awards. Sports activities were not revered by this group. The fact that elite colleges do recruit for athletes was accepted, but they saw those classmates suffer with their grades in comparison to those students that were not required to practice for five hours a day. Surprisingly, 100% of the respondents scoffed at cheerleading activities, including the few that did participate. A few mentioned the time it took away from the school day and the fact that they missed the day altogether for away games. Five of the respondents told me those classmates involved in cheerleading didn’t get into their top picks and those that continued it in college had to change their majors to something much less competitive. They all believed it was important to graduate in top 10% of their class, for admittance to top graduate programs, and the athletic recruits rarely did.
9. They Networked in High School – These students made personal contacts with their teachers and let them know what they were doing outside of the school day. They raised their hands in class and were active participants in class discussions. When it came time to writing letters of recommendation, the teachers were glad to accommodate these students.
10. They Were ALL GENUINELY Involved in Their Communities in Some Way – Whether it was something simple like organizing a park cleanup or volunteering at a local hospital, 100% of these students volunteered in some way. The range of involvement varied greatly and some even related stories of over-enthusiastic parents that created fake 501.c non-profit foundations to show their children were altruistic. Some colleges were fooled and the students were accepted, but those students quickly fell to the bottom of the pack when put along-side students who actually were altruistic. The majority of colleges were able to decipher the real from the fake and the students felt this was a result of the increased competitiveness in admissions to these elite colleges.
This is a quick synopsis of a larger undertaking where I will describe, in great detail, the findings and my observations. There are, however, some insightful conclusions from this study. The students are all highly competitive and hard-working young women who realize those qualities have gotten them into the most elite colleges in the country. They all looked beyond getting in the door and to greater life success. It is, in no way, the only path to success, but an interesting study in commonalities between high-achieving high school girls who have dared to go where others can only dream of going. Maybe this study will let some actually make their dreams a reality.
What does it really take to graduate at the top of your high school class and get into the most elite colleges in the country? I wondered the same thing and went on a quest to find out. After talking to over 400 females in these colleges, I asked them all about their high school habits and experiences. After six months of compilation, I came up with ten very relevant commonalities that may help you succeed, as well![adToAppearHere]
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OPENING PHOTO CREDIT WIKIMEDIA
Sources: brainyquote.com, Wikipedia, fciwomenswrestling2.com, FCI Elite Competitor, photos thank you Wikimedia Commons.