Most high schools don't hold 4,000 students spread over two campuses. While New Trier has a reputation as one of the best public schools in the nation, some are under the impression that this also makes it a competitive pressure cooker where individual students become lost, both socially and academically. As a recent alumnus, I can say that this is simply not true. In fact, the vast size and scope of New Trier was one of my favorite things about it.
I'm not what you'd call a big-school person. I'm quiet, introverted, and quite nerdy. But I found my high school to be an incredibly diverse place where people of all temperaments and interests can find a home.
There is no social hierarchy at New Trier. It's so nonexistent I thought that the popular kids' table and the pecking order was a myth perpetrated by bad teen movies. Cliques are not as, well, clique-ish. I was friends with mathletes and track stars, drama geeks and activists.
It's very easy to become involved in multiple communities, and to be exposed to a broad range of interests. A swimmer participated in my photography project, and I helped the Latin club re-enact the Ides of March. It's a place where it's very easy to be yourself, because it won't lock you into a certain social circle or lifestyle. I don't think most students felt lost–I think most felt awed at how many different places you can be found.
That being said, it's true that New Trier can be lot to handle at first. There are multiple levels of almost every class in every subject. Dozens of AP courses. Activities of an intimidatingly professional caliber. And something like a quarter of the school voluntarily takes summer school–I should know, I was one of them. No matter where you look, it feels like there's always someone excelling at something.
However, I found that the unusual freshman-only campus eased the transition considerably. It provides the same resources on a smaller scale, which gives new students time to find their place and take on leadership roles before being fully integrated with the upperclassmen.
As for the competition…it's hard to look at the people doing multi variable calculus and running two clubs and playing tennis and not feel behind. But I cannot stress this enough: It's all in the students' heads. By attending New Trier, I learned a very important lesson that many people don't get to until halfway through college. There is always going to be someone who is better than you. The best thing you can do is take charge of your own education. Ignore the others. Find what you like and what you're good at. Be honest about your weaknesses. Figure out who you are, and how you work best. And brains aren't measured by ACT's alone.
This is perhaps the best thing about New Trier–it taught me how to work, how to measure personal success, and how to get whatever is most important to me out of a big place.
Kevin Thomas is a graduate of New Trier High School and Brown University. He is an avid martial artist and media geek, and recently returned to Chicago to pursue professional aspirations in advertising, consulting, and digital communication.
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