A Reading Report

"I took a mental health day today," said my teammate as she arrived at cheerleading practice after school.  My sophomore self and the other girls all sympathetically nodded: hadn't we all had to just take a day off of school to keep from a break down?  Oh well.  It came with the territory of a competitive school, a rigorous schedule, and a myriad of activities.

But what if there were another way?

"How to" books generally don't attract me, but this one seemed relevant and had positive reviews: How to Be a High School Superstar: A Revolutionary Plan to Get into College by Standing Out (Without Burning Out) by Cal Newport.  While it took me a while to get through it, I really liked it.  I liked it so much that I'm probably going to recommend it to my freshman and sophomore students.

Newport's premise is what the subtitle suggests: there's an easier way to impress admissions officers than the typical go-go-go "grind" approach.  He calls it "the relaxed superstar lifestyle" and breaks this lifestyle down with three key laws, which compose the meat of his book:

  1. The Law of Underscheduling
  2. The Law of Focus
  3. The Law of Innovation

I won't spoil the content for you.  Go read it!  He organizes his book by explaining and illustrating the given law and then offering practical suggestions for how to live by that law.  The bottom line goal is to develop deep interests that yield "accomplishments that are hard to explain, not hard to do."  These accomplishments help you stand out on college applications.

Three notes of my own I'll make:

First, I actually thrived on that harried, competitive, achiever lifestyle.  Just for its own sake--not for the sake of getting into any specific college.  My self-esteem was healthy (too healthy?) when it came to college admissions, so I did things typically because I wanted to do them, rather than because I was trying to impress colleges.  If you genuinely LOVE the packed-schedule lifestyle, then don't change who you are.

Second, part one of this book has excellent study skills tips.  That's the part that sort of slowed me down.  I wasn't expecting to read a study skills book.  It is all part of his action plan to make underscheduling possible.  I'd recommend reading that section of the book to anyone who wants to be more efficient as a student, regardless of college admissions feelings.

Third, let me put a little Jesus in this.  Newton doesn't do this, and I didn't expect him to, but I think the message of this book calls for it, primarily in terms of motivation.  Newton's audience is understood to have the motivation of getting into "reach" schools.  Nothing wrong with that!  But, as a Christian, I believe there's more to it.  All we have, including our time, is from God.  We are stewards of that time.  Developing and pursuing deep interests can not only be impressive to colleges but also can likely lead to better stewardship of one's time (assuming, of course, that the deep interest isn't something immoral--ha!).  Having an underscheduled calendar can open up opportunities to glorify God with one's abilities and talents in ways that otherwise wouldn't have been possible.  When we opt to invest our time in activities that we're not actually interested in and that we're only part of to impress others, we're likely cutting ourselves off from better ways we can bring glory to God.  Of course, there's the extreme selfishness of this to avoid: "I'm going to quit everything and do what I want to do because I want to do it and who cares about anyone else!"  But I don't think that's the spirit of the "deep interest" that Newton is capturing here.

Bottom line, I highly recommend it.  If you're one of my students, you may see a copy in the mail soon...