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CNN PRESENTS

Kids Under Pressure

Aired April 20, 2002 - 20:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MEN: One, two, three, nerd ball.

JOE GREEN, STUDENT: I have no social life to speak of at all.

HOLLY SEDILLOS, STUDENT: I was just stressed. I was getting headaches and neck aches and backaches.

DR. MARK KELLY, CO-PRINCIPAL, SANTA MONICA HIGH SCHOOL: Balance in life is extremely important and I don't know if these students have balanced it.

DR. KATHERINE KENDALL, DIRECTOR, KENDALL & ASSOCIATES: Some of the quiet, meditative time, these guys just don't even know what that is.

CORKY BENNETT, STUDENT: I wouldn't have worked this hard if I didn't really want to go to a good school.

H. SEDILLOS: I guess you could say I'm an over-achiever. I have been my whole life. All my friends, we compete with each other. And it's friendly competition, but you still want to stay on top.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AARON BROWN, HOST: Welcome to CNN PRESENTS. I'm Aaron Brown. For millions of high school seniors and their parents, this month marks the moment of truth, the moment when the envelopes arrive and they find out if they've been accepted to the colleges of their choice. Nowadays, this rite of passage is not just the culmination of a few years of hard work; many of these kids and probably more of their parents have been pushing towards this day since grade school. And this pressure -- and it is pressure -- seems to start earlier every year. And these days, good grades are no longer an automatic ticket in. Well-rounded is the phrase people use, but it might as well be workaholic.

So how tough is it? Well, filmmakers, Barbara Leverwitz (ph) and Jamie Hellman (ph) followed three top achievers through their final year at Santa Monica High School in California. It was a year on the edge of burnout.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) J. GREEN: OK, this weekend, supposed to go very simply -- I can do physics problems, read the physics book, do calculus problems, take a SAT diagnostic and do my SAT homework, read some "Hamlet" and write a brag sheet.

I wanted to make my dad sushi tonight for his birthday. This is the last birthday that I'm going to be home with my father and then; I'm going to college. By his next birthday, I'll be in college and I'm not going to be able to do that because I have all this goddamn work to do and it's really getting really annoying. And this is -- this is -- this is where the pressure comes because I'm not going to be able to be with my family.

I always just get enough done, never have that extra time. And I'm missing these family moments. Well, I'll see you later.

High school right now is about one thing -- building a resume for college. I mean every class is college prep or AP or honors. They all pretty much have the word "college prep" in them somewhere.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Santa Monica, California, the 12th graders at Santa Monica High are a reflection of what seniors across the nation are going through. We followed three high achieving students and even gave them their own cameras to document the first eight months of their senior year.

Many of these students are stressed and feel the decisions they make today will have significant consequences in their future. It's the first day of their senior year, the last chance to impress colleges.

KIRSTEN HIBERT, CO-PRINCIPAL, SANTA MONICA HIGH SCHOOL: I think for students who, you know, have five AP classes, they're involved in clubs and they're presidents of colleges are on campus. There's a lot of stress. There's a lot of pressure. It's very competitive out there. So they spend hours and hours and hours trying to get homework done, trying to be involved and be this well-rounded student. And I imagine, you know, just speaking to a parent this morning that they have a stress level similar to almost work stress level that we have as adults.

KELLY: I worry that these student have given up all their summers. They've given up their evenings. They've given up their weekends. It concerns me that they're not having the opportunity to play.

DR. RICHARD L. BACKER, ASST. VICE CHANCELLOR, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, SAN DIEGO: It is sad and I've heard that from students also, to be competitive and get into the competitive institutions, that they have no time for themselves.

DAVID ELKIND, PROFESSOR OF CHILD DEVELOPMENT, TUFTS UNIVERSITY: The young people need time to meet with their friends, to hang out, maybe just to read books or be on the net or something, to do their own thing and to use their imaginations to up their social skills. We all need down time. GREEN: You know, the ideal candidate they say is, you know, the captain of the football team, a member of MENSA, spends his weekends running a women's shelter out of his garage and on the side, you know, has orphan children that he's taking care of and everything. So -- and you know, has won a Nobel Prize and he's currently in the Sydney Olympics. So I'm pretty sure if though -- I'd have those things, I'd have a good chance.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Joe Green is 17 years old with a 4.6 weighted grade point average and a score of 1450 out of a possible 1600 on the SAT exam.

GREEN: My verbal is a 750 and my math is a 700, but I'm getting tutoring right now, hoping to improve that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Joe, like millions of teenagers thinks he needs to pack his schedule with activities to create a resume that will impress colleges. He's the captain of the Science Bowl Team...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's correct for 10 points.

GREEN: And I'd also like to thank...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... the student representative on the Santa Monica Board of Education...

GREEN: It's nice seeing you there.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... former captain of the Swim Team and a member of the Water Polo Team.

GREEN: During Water Polo, it was tough. Water Polo, you leave fifth period for a game, which are about two to three times a week and that was when I had calculus, probably my hardest class. And so, I missed that almost half the time and so that was really tough. I had to get -- my dad help me a lot with that to keep up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Joe's dad is a math professor at UCLA and hopes Joe with his college level homework.

MARK GREEN, FATHER OF JOE GREEN: A plus B is zero, right, for the in terms.

J. GREEN: I though U was zero.

M. GREEN: Wait a minute! Hold on!

J. GREEN: Because I do -- ugh!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Advanced placement classes like Joe's no longer give high school seniors an advantage. The most competitive colleges now expect these tough classes to be part of the standard high school curriculum.

M. GREEN: What seems different to me is the number of activities that kids engage in and the extent to which they seem to want to decorate their resumes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Over the years, the competition has only increased. For the last 25 years, Harvard's acceptance rate has remained steady at approximately 2,100 students. But over the years, the number of applicants has increased.

In 1977, 12,700 students applied for admission into Harvard whereas today, over 19,000 have applied.

J. GREEN: I'm sad to say the weekends were used almost entirely to catch up with what I had missed over the week. The schools I'm definitely applying to -- Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, University of Chicago, Swarthmore, probably Georgetown, Washington University in St. Louis, Stanford.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So this will be coming up more.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Like Joe, Corky Bennett is also building her resume. She is 17 years old with a 3.8 GPA and a 1300 on her SATs. She's also the president and co-founder of the AIDS Awareness Club at Santa Monica High.

Like many teenagers, she has a part-time job after school and plays on the varsity tennis team.

C. BENNETT: I think I was always amazed by the kids who just blew off school and were OK with that and just were like, I'm going to do whatever I want. I don't have that inside of me where I can just be like, ah, screw the test, I don't -- it doesn't matter.

I just feel like, oh my gosh, if I don't go to a good school, then maybe I won't get hired by a good company and then, it will be just like where do you go from there? You know, you need like a strong education now to go anywhere.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Corky's fear is not unfounded. The average yearly income increases with the quality of the educational institution. A high school graduate makes $25,000 a year. A college graduate makes $40,000 a year, but a graduate from a ivy league college, like Princeton, can command a salary as high as $100,000 their first year out of school.

C. BENNETT: The schools I'm applying to are U.C. Berkeley, U.C. Davis, UCLA, U.C. San Diego, Stanford, University of Michigan, University of Pennsylvania, Georgetown University and Boston University.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Many high school seniors like Corky are applying to a laundry list of highly competitive schools.

FRANK BENNETT, CORKY'S FATHER: Everybody tells us these schools are very competitive and the college counselors say, "Oh, there's 10 applicants for every person who gets in." And it seems to be a little bit more intense environment. I'm sure that's good, but it's -- but it seems to be happening.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Holly Sedillos is 17 with a 4.1 weighted GPA and an SAT score of 1400.

H. SEDILLOS: That's OK, but some of my -- people that I'll be competing with to get into these colleges that I want to go to are probably going to have higher scores than that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She plays the mellaphone (ph) in the marching band, is the principal chair in orchestra, takes singing lessons and performs with the school chorus.

H. SEDILLOS: It was my choice to do all of it and sometime, I was questioning that decision.

JEAN SEDILLOS, HOLLY'S MOTHER: With all these auditions and practicing for them and the SAT course, and the AP classes and the this and the that, there aren't enough hours in the day for this kid to do what she's bitten off. But she doesn't want to let any of it go.

H. SEDILLOS: I don't like it when my friends do better than I do. I just don't like it. I'm a very competitive person. And I strive to have the highest grades in the class.

I know I'm looking at Yale. I think I might apply early there, but I'm not sure yet. I'm actually going back east to visit it and stay overnight and visit classes. And then, I'm going to Dartmouth for a night. That's my second choice.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In the year 2000, over 120,000 students applied to Ivy League schools. However, only one in four got in.

ELKIND: I think the recognition of the importance in education particularly now with the global economy and the competition of other countries, more and more recognition that education is the railroad to success in a postmodern, highly technological society.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Over applying to many colleges and universities is part of the strategy. Like a gambler hedging a bet, students and parents believe the more schools they apply to, the better their chances of getting into one.

J. GREEN: You should learn how to learn and how to study. But you shouldn't be all of your life. You really don't have a choice. I mean I wouldn't get into any of schools if I didn't do all that I could.

C. BENNETT: I wouldn't have worked this hard if I didn't really want to go to a good school.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: These kids are striving for the perfect blend of academic achievement, high-test scores and multiple activities. But as America's high school students struggle for success, what are they sacrificing today?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Despite all their activities and academic achievement, many students still feel the need to get that extra edge. Holly is making a vocal audition tape to accompany her college applications.

H. SEDILLOS: I don't like the take.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, get a little more connected to the part. It sounds a little from the throat up. Ha, ha, ha.

STEPHEN GRIMM, VOCAL COACH: Students are sending in tapes. They feel like this will show well-rounded extra curricular activities along with their academic records, so that they get a better picture of whose applying, not just their scores, but this person loves, you know, skiing, music, singing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Gaining the advantage can be expensive. Holly's voice lessons can run over $2,000 a year.

GRIMM: But anything you can do to set yourself apart and say, hey, that person's unique and special, it's a good idea. And Holly's singing is really one way that she shows that she's a real serious student and serious in everything that she undertakes.

H. SEDILLOS: They don't really require it, but I thought I'd send it in just to show them what I can do.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Corky tries to improve her odds with the help of a private Beverly Hills educational consultant.

KENDALL: What were grades like last semester?

C. BENNETT: I had all A's and a B plus.

KENDALL: Well, yeah.

C. BENNETT: I got to say the plus.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nationwide, the public school system has, on average, one college counselor for every 472 students. In California, there is one counselor for every 1,029 students, the worst record in the nation. With such a high ratio, it is impossible to get personal attention to each student. As a result, affluent families hire private counselors like Dr. Katherine Kendall, to beef up their children's college applications.

CATHERINE BENNETT, CORKY'S MOTHER: It was important that we had somebody who could guide us through the application process the way things are today. I mean people who know, gee, this school's looking for this or they like their applications to look like this or just a little bit of an edge.

KENDALL: How are you feeling about your prospects? C. BENNETT: I mean I think about mainly Berkeley, like, I mean all the other schools I'm like yeah, I like them, but like I think mainly of Berkeley.

F. BENNETT: She sort of has developed a specialty for helping kids narrow down their choices, pick an appropriate college and then package all the necessary parts to make them look as good on the application process as possible.

KENDALL: I charge $500 for the initial session. I bill by the hour to 60 an hour. So I don't think it's exorbitant. But I also don't think it's something that students should take lightly.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Dr. Kendall would like her success rate to be taken seriously. She claims that 75 to 80 percent of her clients have gotten into the college of their choice.

KENDALL: Even in the last five years, the process has gotten absolutely nuts. It's insane. Two people are reading your application. They're ranking you academically. They're giving you a non-academic rank. But they're not seeing any recommendations.

To put a kid in the very deep ocean when this kid doesn't even know how to swim, they're going to drown. Through helping them with applications and essays and understanding what they need to do, that helps them increase their chances of getting in.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Getting in also means getting the highest SAT scores and Joe's parents pay for a costly SAT tutor.

STEVEN OXMAN, ACADEMIC DIRECTOR, KAPLAN INC.: The average Kaplan student has their score increased by over a 130 points on the SAT and that can make a very significant difference in terms of where they go to school, where they get into college.

Angela has X photographs and her photo album can hold Y photographs per page. If there is Z photographs left over after she has filled the album, how many pages are the album in terms of X, Y and Z?

J. GREEN: Oh, Jesus!

OXMAN: OK, a classic SAT problem and a hard SAT problem. And it's hard because of how obstructed it is.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The average SAT score of a Harvard student is 1485. Joe got a 1450 on his first try, but he's going for a higher score to increase his odds.

J. GREEN: I'm going to take the SATs again because I think that my 700 in math can be improved because I make a lot of stupid mistakes. I missed the easy ones at the beginning and so I'm working with a tutor to help to get rid of those little mistakes.

OXMAN: Now, we want to answer the question, how many pages are in the album in terms of X, Y and Z. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tutoring for the SATs is not cheap. Kaplan's basic course is $799. Additional private tutoring is almost $1,100 for 15 hours.

KATHRYN GREEN, JOE'S MOTHER: With the scores that Joe got on his SATs, I don't think somebody would have had tutoring to try to get them higher. You know I think he feels the pressure to do even better because of the competition.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Students today strive for an advantage over the competition, an advantage that can be very costly.

KELLY: Students who have had the resources and know how to tap the resources appear to have an increased chance of getting into these schools. They know what they want and they know the process to get it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The annual expenses directed towards building the perfect college candidate can total up to $7,600. It's a system that favors those who can afford it.

ELKIND: Unfortunately, it means that many kids who are well-to- do can afford to go to courses and get tutors and all of those things so that, in a sense, the rich get richer, those who can afford it. Then, they get all the special help, whereas kids who may not have that extra help may not do as well.

C. BENNETT: The SAT measures, basically, how much money and time you're willing to put into a class. It's like how much money you have, how much you have and like, how bad you want that score because anyone can work for that score if they put their time into it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The exam is still a prerequisite for acceptance to most colleges.

J. GREEN: I just came out of the SAT I. That was the second time I took it. And I woke up at five this morning and lay in bed nervously for about two hours. My mom bought me this little kitchen timer yesterday. I realized -- I usually just have a watch, but you can't always just look down. This is the kind that just kind of stand up on the table and look at. The lady who proceed us was not that accurate. She was using a clock without a second hand. She'd be up to like 30 seconds off one-way or another.

What if I don't improve? I'll feel like the tutor was kind of a waste of time, but I'll live with it. I won't be, you know, utterly crushed. You know, if I -- if it doesn't improve and then, I get into Harvard, I won't give a damn.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: After two weeks of intense anticipation, Joe calls in to find out his SAT scores.

J. GREEN: Look at this, I have the number memorized.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: After punching in a string of numbers, Joe gets his test results. J. GREEN: Whoa!

K. GREEN: OK, what did you get?

J. GREEN: I got a 1580.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh my God!

J. GREEN: I need to hear them again.

(LAUGHTER)

K. GREEN: Wow! That's great.

J. GREEN: 797, 90

K. GREEN: There you go. That's great, Joe. You worked so hard.

J. GREEN: Wow!

M. GREEN: Hey, can I give you a hug too, my boy?

J. GREEN: 797, 90.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Of the 1.2 million students who took the SATs this school year, Joe is in the 99th percentile. Though it is an extremely high score, he is still competing with 20,000 other students in that same percentile.

J. GREEN: I'm very happy. I didn't get that 1600, but I'm ecstatic.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Getting a head start for college, how young is too young?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

H. SEDILLOS: I just have a quick list of things that I need to do today. I have to write a paper on (UNINTELLIGIBLE). I have five math homework assignments that I need to actually learn the material for and then do, a project that may total five, six hours and find five articles for a research paper in my ECON class. I have to read about 400 pages by October 30, which seems like a lot time, but it's really not.

I was actually hoping to see some of my friends today, but I don't that'll happen. Is there anything else? No, I think that about covers it. But that could still be a very busy day. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Monday is an all night study session for the big calculus exam. Tuesday, the water polo team races across town for a semi-final meet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let the ball bounce in front of you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Wednesday, the coach drills the tennis team late into the night.

Thursday, the school board discusses the weekly agenda.

J. GREEN: To try to find out what exactly our policy is on that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The school marching band performs on Friday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One, two, three, nerd bowl.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No time off for the weekend, the Science Bowl team has a tough competition.

C. BENNETT: And the week...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Academics and activities are a constant daily routine with no let up, all geared towards the perfect college resume.

J. GREEN: Good morning, San Mo. This is your man on the Board of Education, Joe Green.

Maybe when I'm having like a rough time and I'm thinking, well, is it -- is it really worth the effort, does this -- which college get into really matter that much. I mean shouldn't who I am and what I'm able to do matter more. And then I think, well, that's not really how the world works.

H. SEDILLOS: Some of the times, I do think that I just wanted to be playing. I didn't want to be in this prison-like environment, just everybody just doing everything they needed to to get prepared for all these tests.

C. BENNETT: But they need to at least come to get some of the materials. The worst times were just trying to juggle the studying for the SATs and then, you'd have games and you would have the homework. All this stuff and I was just like, oh my gosh. I am just so stressed. And the weekends would come and I would just literally sleep so long because I was just so tired from everything.

ELKIND: No one wants to hurry children. No one wants to put pressure on kids, except that I talk to parents -- well, I don't want to hurry my child, but if I don't put him in soccer at six, he won't make the team at 14. Well, good, that's a resume. So I don't believe in hurrying children, but and then, the teachers, well, I don't believe in hurrying children, but if I don't get good grades, then the principal's going to put more pressure on me. We have accountability now and I really -- I don't believe in pushing kids, but we have to give them two hours of homework even though it is kindergarten. Nobody believes in hurrying children, but everybody does it.

HILBERT: From kindergarten to 12th grade, we are pushing. We are saying, "This is what we want for you." I mean society has changed so dramatically in terms of everyone needing a college education.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Many high schools rank themselves on how many of their graduates go onto good colleges, which is why they start preparing their freshman early.

Ninth graders take a class where they are shown what they will need to get into a college of their choice.

MARY KAY MCCRAE, CAREER COUNSELOR, SANTA MONICA HIGH SCHOOL: OK, ladies and gentlemen, we're getting ready to start. If everyone could take their seats. So what we're going to do today is that we're going to gain information about your interests.

MCCRAE: The reason that we bring ninth graders into the computer labs is because it gives them an opportunity to start thinking early about some of their career interests. And so, I think it's an opportunity to catch them at a little younger age and to give them information, so that when they're making choices, they know what different colleges require. They're making those decisions based on good information.

MCCRAE: Did you understand that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, not really.

MCCRAE: OK, we're trying to go down younger and younger because the more information they have at a younger age, the more able they're going to be able to make those decisions with good information.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Some of the 13 year olds already feel the pressure.

SIAVASH TAJRISHI, NINTH GRADER, SANTA MONICA HIGH SCHOOL: I have to keep my grade point average high because I've heard that grade point average for UCLA is a 4.2, I believe. And I'm trying to apply for AP computers next year and that will hopefully, help me in. I think I can go through with it. I just have to plan my schedule for four years, plan it out.

KENDALL: Academically, students are starting to take the most difficult classes as early as they possibly can. And there' a lot of discussion and debate over whether it's appropriate, for example, to be taking an advanced placement class in the tenth grade. An advanced placement class is a college level class. It's a college textbook and there may be a few students that are really ready to take that kind of a course and do the extensive, in-depth analytical and critical reading that's required, but not the number of students that are actually taking these courses.

MCCRAE: Oh, look, two semesters of college calculus, two of physics, three letters of recommendation. Are you aware of all this -- that that was required?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.

MCCRAE: No? So it's good to know that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: An early jump on building her college resume meant big tradeoffs for Holly.

H. SEDILLOS: I had a really big problem keeping up my social life. I didn't really talk to many people or I had my few friends that I talked to on the phone for maybe a total of five minutes some nights and I also had a boyfriend. It was really frustrating because neither of us could spend time with each other. I just had no time for him.

J. SEDILLOS: She didn't have as many close girl friends and that was too bad. Never went to the mall. I mean that would have been unheard of, to just go hang out some place.

J. GREEN: If I can't, you know, spend two hours to go a see a movie, how am I ever going to get any time at all, you know, to give someone a relationship?

K. GREEN: I guess, you know, maybe hanging out with his friends, say on a Friday night or a Saturday night, it would be nice if he could do that because he really does do the homework almost all the time.

ELKIND: We're always looking forward to the future. And we don't look enough at the here and the now. I mean life is to be lived now; it's not just preparation for the future. These kids are not just preparing for college, they're living and they should enjoy live today. They should have time to be with their friends. They should have time to engage in activities, which they enjoy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But today, most college bound seniors are worried about their future. (END VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ahead, a behind-the-scenes look at how a university chooses their freshman class.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I say this is a no.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I agree.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't see it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Dartmouth College is an exclusive ivy league university ranked ninth in the country, according to "U.S. News and World Report." It has the smallest enrollment of any of the Ivy League schools and is highly competitive. This hasn't deterred Holly. It's now her number one choice.

KARL M. FURSTENBERG, DEAN OF ADMISSIONS & FINANCIAL AID, DARTMOUTH COLLEGE: In the case of Dartmouth, our first year class is not getting any bigger. So if we generate more applications, ultimately, it means we will deny more students and that creates the appearance that it is more difficult to get in, which I think adds to the pressure.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Like millions of seniors around the nation, Holly now has to put all of her accomplishments on three sheets of paper.

H. SEDILLOS: People who look at your applications are looking to see that you have pushed yourself, are looking to see that you've expanded your mind. I've heard that term a lot and commitment is always a big thing. So with my music, I've been committed to that for a while.

FURSTENBERG: When we read applications, we do look for authenticity and genuineness. I think if a student has pursued an activity for superficial reasons, because they think it will look good on their resume, that tends to show up in their essays.

H. SEDILLOS: They're looking for high grades, especially schools -- while they say it doesn't matter, I know it does. I think your GPA is definitely more important than your SATs. And with your essay, I think they're looking for an essay where you're definitely not trying to impress to them, where you're just writing and it's just you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Holly decided to write about a trip to Mexico where she helped the poor. With the essay behind her, she applied early to Dartmouth to get it over with.

H. SEDILLOS: With early decision, you get in in December. You know that you're going to that school in December.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Joe is also applying early to one of the oldest and most prestigious colleges in the country, Harvard University.

J. GREEN: It's out of my hands.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Harvard is one of the most difficult schools in the nation to be accepted to.

WILLIAM R. FITZSIMMONS, DEAN OF ADMISSIONS & FINANCIAL AID, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: This past year, we had 18,693 students apply and we admitted a little under 2,100. A feeling that we get based on the questions, based on what people have written for that matter in their essays, does alarm us. The pressure seems to have increased fairly steadily over the past 15 or 20 years.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For Corky, the pressure will only intensify. Like most seniors, she is applying regular admission. She won't know if she's getting in until April.

C. BENNETT: I didn't apply early because I wanted to go to U.C. Berkeley and if I was accepted early to a private school, then I wouldn't have the option of going to Berkeley if I got in. So I have to wait, which sucks.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Holly doesn't have to wait. Her early admission letters come in December. Holly's parents are anxiously awaiting her return from school.

J. SEDILLOS: It's been pressure ever since ninth grade to come to this day, I guess, getting -- making sure you hardly get any B's and worry about the SAT and all your -- everything. One of the main reasons she applied earlier was because she was tired of high school, that rat race.

H. SEDILLOS: Oh! All right, here's the bag.

J. SEDILLOS: Well, what does it say?

H. SEDILLOS: What do you think it says? It says, "Congratulations. It is a pleasure that I inform you a graduation to Dartmouth College, as a member of the class 2005."

(LAUGHTER)

It's great. It's over. I don't really have to study that any more.

J. SEDILLOS: It's party time now. I don't have to do anything else.

H. SEDILLOS: Thanks, Mom. Thanks for pushing me along and thanks for helping with the application and helping me with all the deadlines, I guess. You saw how happy I was to get in. If it were inspection, I'm sure it would have been the same level of emotion only not happy obviously.

Now, I'm kind of at a high point and -- where I don't have to -- I don't have to stress out anymore. I'll just enjoy the rest of my senior year.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not everyone will come home to an acceptance letter like Holly. Some who were rejected don't take it lying down. They can appeal the decision.

University of California, San Diego is one of the top state schools in the country and gave CNN's cameras unprecedented access to the other side of the application process.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now, this student mentions that at a younger age, he was shuffled from foster home to foster home. So I think we might want to take that into consideration.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Kids applying to colleges are under such an incredible amount of pressure they don't always take no for answer.

BACKER: So we have to give students an opportunity to respond to the denial that we may make. The evaluator makes a recommendation to a three-person committee, which I sit on, the director of admissions and relations with school sits and an assistant director of admissions. And the three of us read the application again and then, we make a determination whether or not it warrants reconsideration.

He's got C's and he's going to have trouble. He's going to have trouble.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Definitely, I think it's a no.

BACKER: Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He has many -- he has some choices that are available.

BACKER: And this is very interesting, he got into UCLA.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He did improve his grades dramatically. His GPA in his seventh semester is a 4.25. I would say yes.

BACKER: OK. We'll take him.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Boy, only one yes at this point. It's tough here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The University of California, San Diego is one of the most competitive state schools in the nation.

BACKER: The academic credentials of those students, they have brought with us, a 4.04 average high school grade point average and a 1304 average SAT I. So these are the students that we've offered admission to.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Each applicant is given a certain amount of points for their grade point average, SAT scores, awards and extracurricular activities.

BACKER: His SATs are pretty good.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Which makes him only 19 points below the cut.

BACKER: He's not that strong.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK.

BACKER: That's a no.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So that's a no.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.

BACKER: No.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did our admissions evaluator have some thoughts on this next case?

BACKER: She thinks that's waived.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 4.0 GPA.

BACKER: She has missed the cut.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So this would be a no?

BACKER: This is a no. This kid was just unbelievable with the activities that she had outside the classroom, particularly in the dancing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would -- upon reading her file, I think I would have given her 250 points for the five gold medals she won in the National Dance Competition.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Five gold medals.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Five gold medals, so she deserves 250 points. That makes it. Even though with the 250 points, she doesn't make our cut. She's only got a 6158.

BACKER: I don't see anything that's going to sway me here. And she's missing by 400 points.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I agree, but she's been dancing since two- and-a-half. OK. One out of 10.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Then there's one of two...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Two.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... that we have to get more information on, right?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. All right.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Applying to college is stressful, but waiting for the response is even worse.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As seniors nervously await a college verdict, greeting the mail carrier becomes a daily routine. The Green family is going on vacation. Joe still has not received a letter from Harvard. He anxiously arrives at the airport the next day. Harvard finally allows applicants to call in to see if they've been accepted and Joe is immediately on the phone.

J. GREEN: They're busy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Busy?

J. GREEN: Agh! It hung up. You enter the card again. I'll do it. I don't hear anything. Green, like the color. Joseph.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: With his 1580 SAT score, 4.6 weighted GPA and advanced placement classes, this captain of the Science Bowl team, member of the water polo team and the student representative to the Santa Monica Board of Education, waits as his litany of accomplishment boils down to a simple yes or no over a cell phone.

J. GREEN: Six, 28, 83. History, Math II-C, Writing and Biology M.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Joe!

J. GREEN: Oh my God! Thank you. Whoa! Thank you so much. I got in. I got in. Whoa! It's out of this world. I mean it's -- I never really thought it could actually happen. I mean it really takes a lot of pressure off for the rest of the year. It's great. It's making this ski trip a lot more fun.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Of the 18,693 students who dare apply to Harvard, just under 2,100 are accepted and Joe Green is now one of them.

K. GREEN: He deserved it. It's like he worked so hard. He worked so hard.

J. GREEN: And it's basically the validation of your education up to this point. I don't think I'll like do that to work. It's just like you don't have that hanging over you, like, if I mess up on this, it's not -- you know, I'll still go to Harvard.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Joe no longer has to stress over getting into college and he can enjoy his vacation.

For Corky, whose applications are due January 1, there wont' be a winter break.

C. BENNETT: The U.C. school is where I want to go. I don't have the option at all of applying early. No matter what I do, I have to get every single of my applications out and I have to make sure that everything is done and all my major reports are sent out.

It's just kind of depressing because you're like, shouldn't I be having like a relaxing time, like not thinking about schoolwork or forms I have to fill it. But it just comes at the worst time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Corky comes home from work to a letter from Stanford, a thin one.

C. BENNETT: That's nice.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a little letter for you today.

C. BENNETT: Well, this is what I kind of figured. I was pretty sure that this was going to happen. "Dear Corinne (ph): I am writing to tell you that we are unable to offer you admission to Stanford for the fall of 2001." I've set myself up to believe that Stanford was a pretty difficult school to get into.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But Berkeley is her first choice. It is April 5 and still no letter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's frozen, frozen stuck.

C. BENNETT: You froze the computer?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I froze the computer. I think it's down for the day.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Berkeley allows applicants to check their status online as of 3:00 p.m. today.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 3:02 p.m.

(LAUGHTER)

C. BENNETT: I'm extremely nervous. It's extremely nerve racking because I'm not sure -- (UNINTELLIGIBLE). I really care. You know, there's nothing you can do about it. It's already been done and I'm like, whoa! Do I type in my social security number as the application ID>

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah.

C. BENNETT: OK. Oh, God, I didn't' format it correctly. Including slashes. My heart is racing so fast. I got in!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She's heading to Berkeley.

C. BENNETT: I don't want to read it. OK. "Congratulations, we are pleased to offer you a place in the fall of 2001 freshman class. Please refer to your admission mail today from our..." Ah, OK, D.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, this is good. She's gotten into some great schools. I'm really proud of her because this is what -- this is the one she wanted and she did a great job.

C. BENNETT: At least they put it in big letters.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's in big letters.

C. BENNETT: Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you happy?

C. BENNETT: Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am too.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Holly, Joe and Corky are all accepted to the college of their choice, but was it worth the trade offs?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: High school senior are often rewarded for their multiple accomplishments with letters of acceptance. But the growing student population is only increasing the already competitive high school environment.

BACKER: This puts pressure on students and it's a challenge for the student. And it is stressful. And it's going to be more stressful for students as they -- as they strive to get into these very competitive institutions because we are all becoming competitive institutions.

KELLY: From the high school, we believe that there's a lot of pressure from the colleges, but the colleges are saying the pressure is coming from the larger work place and the economy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: With all the non-stop studying and activities required to get into college today, what is the lasting impact on the kids?

ELKIND: Some of it has to do with mid-life crisis. I think, at mid-life crisis, we see are people at that point in life that begin to reassess their lives to see what they've achieved, what they haven't achieved. And so, at that point, they may realize that this is not really what I wanted to do.

FITZSIMMONS: We're talking now to people in their 30's and their 40's and they say, "Gee, I've jumped through enumerable hoops throughout my life and I see nothing but more hoops in front of me."

KELLY: I don't necessarily know if they're going to experience life in its fullest enjoyment capacity as they could have had they had an opportunity to really think and be free and to really kind of wonder and wander and to really have some creativity in their lives. I think that's missing.

J. GREEN: People are always saying like, you know, you should live your high school years or whatever. But what most people in high school consider a social life is going and getting really, really screwed up at a party.

K. GREEN: Somebody said, "Be glad you're kid's a nerd." I don't think Joe's a quote nerd.

M. GREEN: Well, no.

K. GREEN: But I mean -- you know, I mean -- but I mean -- you know, in quotes, be glad if your kid is not out drinking and out partying all the time.

J. SEDILLOS: You feel like you've done a pretty good job if your child gets into a prestigious college. Some parents feel that more than others depending on how much of themselves they put in and how much of their own ego is connected with their child's achievement, I guess.

H. SEDILLOS: Now, I'm spending a lot more time just doing things that I enjoy doing. And I might have -- I might have missed some of that, just different church things or just -- I don't know, things outdoors that I -- that I'm kind of interested in doing now. I might have not had the time.

C. BENNETT: Now, I'm just like, oh my God, it's the end. I just need to like not think about it, to be happy that it's over with before getting really into the fact that like a whole new thing is about to start, coming up with like going away to college. It's like -- it's sort of like, OK, it's done. I can confident that I'm going somewhere that I want to go, that I'm happy to go and I can just like rest about it now, you know.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The pep rally at Santa Monica High is a way to relieve stress and have fun. Joe joins the swim team tradition by painting himself green in honor of school spirit.

The pressure has eased up for now. Senior year is over. But for a million college bound seniors around the country, a new chapter in their life is about to begin.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: Joe, Corky and Holly worked so hard to get into the colleges of their choice. It's a little surprise that as their freshman year comes to a close, they all report hectic schedules and hectic lives. Joe has thrown himself into economics and government at Harvard, joining among other things, the university's Institute of Politics. And Corky is working hard on a double major in Psychology and Business at Berkeley. And as for Holly, balancing academics at Dartmouth with a host of extracurricular activities and clubs. And yes, you'll probably be working for them some day.

That's this edition of CNN PRESENTS. I'm Aaron Brown. We'll see you next week.

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