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MIT student blogger Ben O. '19

My “Normal” High School by Ben O. '19

What it was like going to an ordinary high school

Now, I can be pretty sure that most everyone applying to MIT has a number of things that they are worried about. Grades, SAT scores, the amount of extracurricular classes taken, etc. etc. etc. At times it seemed like I could have found a cure to cancer, ignorance, AIDS, made an organization for lost orphaned baby whales in the middle of Africa, speak Spanish, Chinese, Klingon, and Gibberish, get a 3250 on my ACT and still not got in. However, even though these were all factors, they were all things I felt like I could control. I could study hard and get grades and I could apply myself to my clubs and obtain a high position; however, the one thing I felt like I couldn’t control was my high school and honestly……. It terrified me.

When I looked at students that got into schools like MIT I felt like they came from one of two categories. In group one there were students that went to prestigious high schools with award winning math and science programs and a history of sending students to big schools. In group two there were students that came from underfunded schools that seemed to make it almost impossible to succeed. Yet despite their situation, these students put in an immense amount of work and were able to overcome their circumstances. However, what I never seemed to hear of was students coming from some random middle class suburban high school, and weirdly enough that’s where I found myself. It was one of the only factors I felt I could do nothing to change and honestly…… It terrified me.

Now before I continue I am not bashing my high school, nor any other middle class suburban high school. In fact I loved my high school. No matter where I went or what I decided to do, my school’s faculty was behind me. If I was really curious about the double gate experiment, my chemistry teacher would be more than willing to spend a lunch period just going over hypothetical situations. If I was working on trying to come up with some new cancer idea, my biology teacher would spend more than an ample amount of time responding to early morning emails telling me where I might have potential flaws in my ideas. In fact for Christmas, some of the faculty used their own money to get me a biology textbook and Feynman’s lectures on Physics because they knew that there was nothing I loved more. I loved the faculty at my high school, they truly cared about my education and were more than willing to entertain what I would consider an “annoying” curiosity, and for that I am thankful. Nevertheless, I believed there was one large flaw in my school, there seemed to be an overall lack in drive….. It terrified me.

In all honesty I don’t think I would have noticed my school’s lack in drive if I hadn’t gone to two different high schools, and that’s why I hope to be able to share this information with you guys!!! I spent my freshman and sophomore year of high school in a pretty competitive place. It had a few Ivy League kids a year, a pretty awesome debate team, but more than anything it had driven students. The kids at this high school worked non-stop to hopefully step foot into an Ivy League school one day, and honestly I respected that. However, when I had to move high schools for my junior and senior year, though I was surrounded by some of the most caring and genuine faculty in the world, I felt there was an overall lack of this drive in students. Now, of course I cannot make a statement like this without saying that this is not a statement about my entire high school. During my junior and senior year I was fortunate enough to meet kids who honestly wanted to change the world, whether that be through bringing energy to Africa, changing the way people saw the world through photography and theater, or by helping end sex trafficking worldwide, I truly did meet some amazing people while I was in high school. However, I think the one thing that bothered me was the mentality of the class as a whole…… It terrified me.

Honestly I think one of the biggest problems with the middle class high school system is there is absolutely nothing wrong with being in the middle class, and in my opinion I feel this creates a feeling of complacency. Students in the high level high schools are surrounded by students, parents, and teachers all supporting them and pushing them to go to the best school possible, and therefore it creates a drive in these students to do the best they can. In the underfunded schools students seem to be unsatisfied with where they are and hope to change their circumstances, so an unending drive to do better is built in them. However, as I said before there is nothing wrong with the middle class, there is nothing forcing students to “shoot for the top.” For many nothing would satisfy them more than to get into the local state school. Now I cannot stress this enough THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WRONG WITH THIS. Anyone who put in the time and the effort to go through another four years of schooling deserves respect no matter the name of that school. However, what I found sad was hearing a sentence that went like this:

“Yo Ben I have this idea for ‘insert idea here’”
“Woah ‘insert name of person here’ you know what has a really good program for a school like that ‘insert name of a high ranking college’”
“Lol no way, why work super hard to get in there when I could just stay here”
or the one that would really make me cringe
“Hehehehe………. No way I am smart enough for that, but nice joke”

I cannot count the number of how many times I met students that had an infinite amount of potential to not only get into a good school but flourish there; however, due to circumstance, felt no need to reach for anything higher than what was already comfortably within their reach, or felt they did not possess the ability to go beyond what was immediately around them.

I think this fact really hit me when I went to take my SAT subject tests. In my county of maybe 15 high schools there were only 5 locations to take the SAT and only two of those locations were near my school. When I went to take the SAT there were only two kids taking the subject test, me and another kid from my school. This happened not only once but twice, both the first and second time I took subject tests. I guess it really surprised me because a large amount of the high level colleges strongly recommend if not require these tests, yet in a whole county only two students were taking the tests. To me I guess it just said that in the entire county not many people felt they had the ability to get into good schools, and I truly felt there was nothing further from the truth.

So Ben what are you getting at with this blog post???
Well little reader, who might or might not be little, I guess I am writing this blog post for a lot of people going to an ordinary high school or maybe feel they have no chance in getting into a school like MIT because they don’t think they are “smart” enough. Please don’t let the circumstances you are in, or the people you are around tell you what you can or cannot do. For me I honestly did not believe I could get into MIT. I didn’t get first in IMO (heck I didn’t even know what IMO was), I didn’t meet the president by winning the IBM science fair, or anything ridiculous like that. Nevertheless, I had it set in my heart that I could go to MIT if I worked hard enough, and look here I am. Nothing more than some normal kid from some normal high school. As corny as the line is, if you really believe in yourself there is nothing stopping you from achieving anything you want to. I can’t give you the “key” to getting into MIT, but I think having a little faith in yourself can definitely help ^_^