Every other Sunday, Money360 reviews a personal development, personal productivity, or other book of interest.
by Maya Frost is one of those books that takes what you think you know about a subject and flips it on its ear. This time around, it’s the standard route that most high schoolers take towards their education: take lots of AP classes, sweat about the ACT and SAT, apply to hyper-competitive colleges and hope you get in, apply for piles of scholarships, sweat out the FAFSA, then go on to college, where you’ll likely be buried in mountains of student loans.
This process is seen as so standard that many people don’t even question whether or not it makes sense to start pushing our fourteen and fifteen year olds through this woodchipper. argues that this path is not the only path – in fact, Frost argues that there is a much better way to help your children transition into the latter stages of their education. Hence the eye-catching subtitle: Skip the SAT, Save Thousands on Tuition, and Get a Truly International Education.
I fully expect that many people will immediately reject the central premise of this book – that the “traditional hypercompetitive SAT/AP/GPA path” can be easily dumped and a new path to educational success can be found. All I can say is this: time and time again, throughout my college career, the people that seemed to have the best grasp of what they needed to do to succeed and the value they could get out of college were people who came in from outside that treadmill.
Ready to dig in? Here are my impressions of and thoughts on .
One: Creative, Not Crazy – Our Family’s Story
In the summer of 2005, the Frost family sold everything and moved to Mexico for a year, then to Argentina. The family had four teenage daughters, including a high school freshman, a junior, and a senior, and they were unable to speak Spanish when they left. Not only that, the girls also spent years in other countries on yearlong exchanges. They did not worry too much about the perfect GPA and they also didn’t take the SAT. You might think that this would blow up all of the girls’ chances of getting into a good school, but instead it did the opposite – it painted very compelling pictures of young women who were experiencing the world, not just pumping up their numbers. Compelling enough to get them piles of scholarships and admissions to good schools.
Two: Beyond Math and Mandarin
Frost’s argument about why all of this works really boils down to two big factors. First, the diversity of experiences forced the children to learn how to be collaborative. They were constantly being put into cultural and intellectual situations where they had to learn to work well with others in order to get through it. In contrast, high school in America – with the SAT/GPA/AP milestones – are highly competitive without much focus on collaboration. The collaborative nature of their high school experience, in other words, was a huge advantage.
Second, the children were heavily ingrained throughout their lives with five key principles: flexibility (independent thinking, eagerness to explore new ideas and places), awareness (ability to intelligently discuss a wide variety of topics, compassion and respect for others), curiosity (an interest in a variety of areas and the ability to ask questions and investigate those areas), trustworthiness (realization of the vitality of being dependable, strong communication skills, complete things on time), and self-direction (establish and move towards goals, internalized work ethic and motivation).
These aspects combine together to make young people who are ready to tackle anything. In my eyes, it’s a great recipe for parenting in the modern world – I strive for all of these things with my own children, even at their young age.
Three: Fego: You’re Soaking in It!
What keeps our children from having these attributes? Frost points at two huge factors.
First, fear. We fear letting go of our kids. We fear not doing enough. We fear taking charge. We fear slowing down. We fear unstructured time and unstructured activities. We fear falling behind. These fears all lead us towards pushing our children hard down that typical path. Instead, we’re better off hammering in the big principles of independent thought and self-responsibility when they’re young and letting go as much as we can when they’re older.
Second, ego. We want to believe that we’re vital to the process of our children’s final steps towards adulthood. We’re not. Once puberty hits, we’re a support staff – we’re no longer absolutely vital to the process. Similarly, we tie our own sense of self-worth to the accomplishments of our children – if our kids get a high score on the SAT or get an A in an AP class, that’s proof that we’re great and something we can brag about to others, right? Wrong. It’s just ego fuel that actually hurts our kids.
Another interesting argument: our children have huge advantages with the advent of computers, the internet age, and the easy access to information. Shouldn’t this mean that they blow us away in terms of intellectual growth at a young age? The problem is that instead of focusing on actually raising intellectually curious and self-reliant kids, we focus on them getting A’s in classes that likely aren’t pushing them very hard at all. So why should they grow if all that matters is that A? Instead, the book suggests using local community colleges to put your child in genuinely challenging classes that really push them – a “B” in a class that really pushes their work ethic and intellect is much more valuable than a cruise-control “A” in every aspect other than the almighty GPA.
Four: AP, IB, & SAT – OMG!
So many students today stress themselves out over taking tons of AP classes and getting a great SAT score. Frost argues that both of these have less value in terms of getting into college than you might think.
First of all, she argues that so many students are taking AP courses that they’re becoming watered down. With B- students taking the courses and sometimes passing, the material may be at a somewhat lower level than before. On top of that, students are now taking three or four AP courses at once. As a result, many colleges are eliminating the credits they offer in exchange for AP courses. In the end, the value of an AP course is lower than it once was, both in terms of what’s learned and in terms of how colleges value it.
A similar phenomenon is happening with the SAT and ACT. High schools are now beginning to require the exams; meanwhile, community colleges don’t require the test at all and most colleges and universities are de-emphasizing the test in terms of admission criteria. In other words, instead of becoming a useful prep tool for college, it’s become so universalized that it no longer matters as much as it once did.
What does matter, then? How can a student stand out? Frost points towards the , which provides a rigorous plan of study available in many different nations that, upon completion, is accepted (and often considered quite valuable) for college admission. Plus, the IB de-emphasizes the pressure of AP classes and the SAT, instead focusing on teaching how to learn and how to collaborate, skills invaluable in a person’s career. Another approach: taking the GED as early as possible, skipping the high school “experience,” and moving on to college early.
Five: Meet the New A Student: Artful, Advanced, Atypical, and Adventurous
Frost argues (quite well, with a pile of anecdotes) that a well-balanced student is incredibly well served by spending time abroad during their high school experience. Such an experience provides a huge deal of personal growth, vastly improves personal awareness, and demonstrates on college applications that a student is committed to outside-the-box exploration.
Here’s the thing: people at this age are passionate and that passion floods in surprising directions. If you stifle that passion and attempt to channel it in a way you see fit, you’re likely to see the dam break and see passion flow in a terrible direction. Instead, offer your child as many positive channels as possible and see where their passion takes them. Putting a study abroad experience on the table certainly does that.
Six: The Boldest Advantage: A Yearlong High School Exchange
Almost all parents feel some strong reticence at the idea of sending their child abroad for a year to study. That’s the “fear and ego” mentioned earlier raising its head.
Instead, a study abroad program – if done with thought and planning – is probably the best move you could make for your child. It’ll help you deal with the “empty nest” problem in a cold turkey way, keeping you from being a helicopter parent when your child moves on. It’ll show your child in the clearest way possible that you respect their independence. Most importantly, though, it’ll give your child a huge dose of personal and intellectual growth as they learn about a different culture and different way of life while also continuing their education. Few things set up a student better for college than such an adventure.
How can you make the most of this? Go early (sophomore year is a good target), go long (a full year instead of a semester), and go challenging (a place with a different language and a different culture).
Seven: How to Save Thousands on College: Study Abroad
A similar philosophy applies in college – go early (sophomore year is a good target), go long (a full year instead of a semester), and go challenging (a place with a different language and a different culture). A study abroad program while in college also has an additional benefit: it’s cheap.
Many people scoff at this, pointing toward expensive study abroad packages offered by schools. The truth, though, is that those packages are often glorified travel packages – instead of immersing the student in another culture, it actually isolates them in a vacation-like bubble, housing them with other native English speakers and providing every possible accommodation. Very little actual value is gained.
Instead, consider applying directly to the university you desire to attend as an independent international student. You’ll live in the same housing as students there and will be fully immersed in the culture instead of isolated in a “submarine” of your own culture. Plus, the price is reasonable – often very reasonable. In many cases, it’s far less expensive than the price you’re paying for university at home.
Eight: The Full Family Deal: Sabbatical or Sell-It-All?
A third option – one that works well if you have multiple high-schoolers at once – is to simply spend a year abroad, enrolling your kids in school in that country for a year. This will be something we consider circa 2019, for example, when we have two children in early high school.
Obviously, this doesn’t work for everyone, but it does have certain advantages. If you can find a job in your career in another country, it’s a huge resume booster. If you’re engaged in a creative career, immersing yourself in a different culture can pay real dividends.
This is something that’s at least on the radar for us in several years. If my wife can get a job teaching English in another country for a year, we would be quite interested in pursuing this. I can in theory write from anywhere, too, so that also helps.
One good compromise – a summer-long sabbatical. Rent an apartment in a foreign nation for three months and see how things go. Engage in every activity you can while there – not tourist stops, but the way of life that people have there. Shop at their stores. Eat their food. Learn their language.
Nine: The Get-Real Guide for Bold Parents
The final chapter is something of a clean-up of the many issues brought up by this book. How do you handle the criticism from others who say you’re sinking your child’s chances because you’re not following the “normal” path? What about their safety?
Each of these questions has a very reasonable answer. As for the criticism, such study abroad programs actually vastly improve chances of college acceptance and of growing a student to the point where they can really take advantage of college. With the safety issue, high school students are often more safe abroad than at home – no drivers under the age of eighteen, students are protected from anti-American sentiments by their youth, and students are naturally more cautious because they’re in unfamiliar territory.
Is Worth Reading?
I’ll be honest with you: I’ve been questioning the absoluteness of the high school/SAT/college application/expensive college pipeline for a long time. I’m actually in favor of delaying college for a year or two after high school, allowing other life experiences to fill in the gap. Why not let a student spend a year working hard at a job or for a non-profit in between high school and college, learning what it actually means to earn a paycheck and make ends meet and what the value of a college education actually is. I know I certainly would have benefited from such a sojourn. I’ve also been thinking a lot about traveling abroad for an extended period when my children are older, perhaps spending a year in another country and allowing them to attend school there (Great Britain, perhaps, or maybe a nation where we don’t speak the language natively).
Reading actually knocked down the idea of the standard pipeline even more. It’s loaded with food for thought for any person with children school-aged or younger. Even if you consider the general idea to be nonsensical, there’s enough material in here about how to set the path for your child to excel in their educational and professional career and save money along the way that it’s at least worth a read for specific tips.
For us, it’s opened the door to a lot of discussion about what we can do as parents to prepare our children for this ever-shrinking world.
If you have kids, you owe it to yourself to read this one. It’ll really make you think about their education and how simply connecting the dots might not be the best route.