16: Gaining a Competitive Edge

16: Gaining a Competitive Edge

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk Getting In...To College

Gaining a Competitive Edge

I play to win, whether during practice or a real game. And I will not let anything get in the way of me and my competitive enthusiasm to win.

~Michael Jordan

It was never a choice whether I would go to college or not, it was expected that I would. I remember my grandfather picking me up from school one afternoon during my sophomore year of high school. As I climbed into his big Buick, he said, “Natalie, it’s about time you start looking into different colleges that you might be interested in.” My heart skipped a beat. College? I’m just getting the hang of high school!

A few months later, when I was completely consumed with preparing for my driving test, a copy of US News and World Report’s college guide showed up in my bedroom. I flipped through it for a bit but it was so giant and overwhelming that I decided to concentrate on more interesting things like who had plans for that weekend instead.

As summer rolled into fall and junior year began, I noticed something different in the air—a vibe. Everyone seemed a bit anxious, a bit on edge. And then it started. At first it was just a quiet grumbling in the halls. It was a few people whispering where they were taking their SAT. Then there were more open discussions, about registering for the SAT and what scores were needed for which colleges. It rapidly escalated to what SAT-prep programs and tutors were best and how you had to have at least one to be “competitive.”

I came home one day and asked my mom what college plans she had for me. “Well I thought I’d have Mrs. Schmidt over and you two could discuss where you see yourself.”

“Umm, okay.”

Mrs. Schmidt? She’s my mom’s friend. What does she even know about college other than the fact that she’s sent four children away to various schools?

Mrs. Schmidt came over to meet with me later that month and asked me all kinds of questions that I was not equipped to answer. “Do you see yourself at a small school or a big Division-I university?” “How were your PSAT scores?” “When are you taking SAT prep?” “What do you want to major in?” “Have you thought about Greek life?”

I just stared at her dumbfounded. I don’t know what is small and what is not. I can’t comprehend what “40,000 students” means. And test scores? Majors? Am I one of the only ones who hasn’t even begun to think about the SAT? I can’t possibly figure out what to study in school! I am really expected to decide what I want to be when I grow up right now? At my kitchen table? At sixteen years old?

I felt like someone had dropped a one hundred pound weight on my chest. There was no way I could possibly answer any of these questions. I was overwhelmed, scared, and frustrated. Why couldn’t my parents just make these decisions for me?!

When I asked my parents about taking an SAT prep course to gain a “competitive edge,” I felt another crushing weight drop on my chest. “Natalie, I’m not going to pay for you to take a course. I don’t believe in them. The score you get on the SAT should be reflective of your intelligence, not on different testing strategies you’ve learned. And anyway, you attend a college preparatory school. That’s an edge in its self.”

“But Mom! Everyone else is getting a tutor or at least taking a class!! You don’t want me to end up at a bad school, do you?!”

My mom looked at me with great compassion in her eyes and said, “You will not end up at a bad school. You are a smart girl. How about I buy you a practice question book and you can study on your own that way?”

“Ugh. Fine.”

So I studied on my own a little bit. I did some practice questions so that I knew what to expect on the test, and I worked on my vocabulary and analogy pairings. Then the big day came. My mom made me a huge brain-food breakfast and I drove myself to the testing site. I walked in and right away I realized something. I was calm. I was confident. I was simply taking a test.

Yes, it was a test that could potentially influence the rest of my life, but I didn’t see it that way. Maybe it was because I didn’t have all the strategy and the practice hours and the pressure and the money put into preparing for it, or maybe it was because I knew that I could always take it again, but I walked into that classroom knowing that I was going to do my best and that that was all that was expected of me. And you know what? That was the biggest “competitive edge” of all.

~Natalie Embrey Hikel

More stories from our partners