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Book of the Month: The Overachievers: The Secret Lives of Driven Kids

By Alexandra Robbins

Grade Levels: 9+

The true scale of the college application process, especially the competitive nature of the Ivy League route, is not well known. Students and parents alike are often faced with the mysterious, daunting shadow of how to prove that they are Ivy League material. This can lead them down dangerous paths as they seek to prove at a young age that they have what it takes.

Alexandra Robbins is well known for her investigative journalism. She has written several books about the lives of students. She strikes an incredible balance between the narrative stories of the real people she has interviewed with the wider data surrounding each issue. In The Overachievers, Robbins gives us a deep dive into the lives of students striving for that coveted acceptance to a Top 20 school and the effects that pressure has on their lives.

While this book came out in 2007, the topics it covers have only become more prevalent. It gives true accounts of the toll a deep focus on school rankings and achievement alone can take on a student’s mental, physical, and social health. Injuries from sports, overwhelming anxiety, drug use, and cheating are all expressions of overwhelming pressure to succeed. This pressure to achieve can come from parents, society, or be self-imposed by the students themselves. Regardless of the source, that pressure can crush a student’s sense of being and leave them floundering as young adults.

Robbins covers all different aspects of the college application frenzy as she follows several Maryland students throughout their last years of high school. She even covers the competitive nature of Ivy-League themed preschools. We get an inside look at how these students cope with these pressures in good and bad ways. The struggles these Maryland students face are shared by students across the country.

Students reading this book will find that they are not alone in their fears and anxieties. There are others who understand what they are going through and can connect with them. Parents reading this book will learn more about how their students process the experience of college applications and learn how to support them. This is a difficult and emotional time for students who often feel alone and confused. It is a stressful time for parents who are seeking the best options for their children. Teachers, parents, and counselors can learn how to work together to keep students from becoming overwhelmed and lost.

This is a great book for students and parents alike to understand the difficulties of college applications and what harm an achievement focused mindset can create.

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