In academic driven schools like Quarry Lane, students find themselves taking a heavy course load along with doing many extracurriculars to be competitive for top colleges. But what if getting into a top college doesn’t need to involve plowing through hours of work or juggling many activities at once? In How to Be a High School Superstar, Cal Newport makes the argument that high school students can have a relaxing lifestyle and still get into top colleges.  

In his book, he introduces a concept called the relaxed superstar. Unlike students who are constantly sleep deprived, the relaxed superstar has a lot of free time to focus on one main activity and does not have a demanding schedule. The relaxed superstar may sound impossible to achieve, but Newport mentions real anecdotes of students that embodied this type of persona and ended up going to top colleges like Stanford, MIT, Princeton, etc. From this, he mentions common traits these students shared and then provides practical steps for readers on how to master one specific interest that range from studying meteors to creating biodiesel.  

What I enjoyed the most about this book is the book’s ideas were insightful and fresh whereas the common advice I hear from college panels is about finding your passion. In my opinion, “finding your passion” is not helpful advice. On the other hand, Newport’s book suggests that readers should throw out the word “passion” and replace that word with “interestingness.” According to Cal Newport, interestingness conjures the possibility of being featured on an NPR talk show whereas passion is more formulaic and at times can be forced. The concepts in the book made me question whether I demonstrated a genuine interest in some activities.  

Another thing that I appreciated was that some of the points in the book such as the Activity Andy Test encouraged me to quit certain activities. As I read the book, the more I noticed that I did not get much value from certain activities. After finishing the book, I had more confidence in dropping a volunteer activity and after school class. Not only did the advice about quitting helped me in my extracurriculars, but also it made me question my planned coursework. Wanting to devote more time to one focus (chemistry) and become the best in the field, I thought it wasn’t bad to do IB certificate instead of IB diploma.  

Although the book was indeed helpful and thought-provoking, I feel like some of the steps in the book may not be realistic for a high school student in 2021.  The advice is not outdated, but the students featured in this book are from the mid-2000s and the competition during that time was less intense. I found it difficult to imagine myself having a relaxing coursework like theirs in which they only took a few APs and a lot of free time on the weekends. Therefore, I only used some pieces of advice from the book as I felt some practices were risky such as taking fewer classes. 

In short, How to Be a High School Superstar is an essential book for students that want to go to top colleges but do not want high school to an exhausting four years of their lives. I recommend that students should read this as early as freshman year so they do not have to waste time rewriting plans. Another way to get the most benefit out of this book is by annotating the book with your own goals and ideas.

Photo Source: MD Duran- UNSPLASH

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