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The Overachievers: The Secret Lives of Driven Kids    by Alexandra Robbins order for
by Alexandra Robbins
Order:  USA  Can
Hyperion, 2006 (2006)

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* * *   Reviewed by Melissa Parcel

High school isn't what it used to be. The competition is fierce for grades, class rank, activities, SAT scores, AP Classes and recommendations. Alexandra Robbins has done an extensive amount of research into the lives of high achievers - those kids whose goal is to get into a top college, and who will do just about anything to get there.

This engaging account is made more fascinating because it doesn't just deliver dry research page after page. Ms. Robbins returned to her own high school, Walt Whitman in Bethesda, Maryland and chose ten students she felt represented the college-bound overachiever. Their stories are presented, alternated with statistics and information on subjects such as sports, SAT exams, the U.S. News & World Report college issue, sleep, cheating, and many others.

This information is astounding in many ways. In the back of my mind, I knew many of these things were happening, but I didn't realize the extent, nor did I realize that much of what the students and parents are doing and spending money on never makes much difference. An amazing fact the author states about sports: 'Fewer than 3 percent of high school athletes will play a sport in college, and only one in 13,000 high school athletes will be paid to play professionally.' Only 1.8 percent of high school varsity athletes received scholarships. Contrasted with the literally thousands of dollars and thousands of hours parents and students put into these sports - not for enjoyment most of the time, but on the quest for the scholarship - these statistics should cause us to open our eyes and see what we are doing. Another thing she states in the sports chapter is that 70 percent of children under eighteen who play organized sports will drop out before the age of thirteen due to pressure. This alone should give parents, coaches, teachers, and administrators pause to think.

Unfortunately, the information about sports is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this issue of overachievers. Pressure by parents to create a super student often starts before the children are born, and intensifies thereafter with competitive preschools and kindergarten. These students lack time to sleep, time to do anything enjoyable to them, time to study. They just plain lack time in general. And this shows in their stress levels, which could rival any company CEO's. And again, to what end? To get into a more prestigious college? Research shows that of the top CEOs of major corporations, the majority graduated from lesser-known or state schools.

The Overachievers is an eye-opening treatise that should be required reading for parents, educators, and anyone who has an influence on children. Ms. Robbins' research is well-documented and her writing style is easy to read and follow. This is one of the most compelling books I have read in a long time, and I continue to turn back to it and re-read portions out loud to family and friends.

Listen to a podcast interview with Alexandra Robbins at

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