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Rated: E · Editorial · Educational · #1997827
Originally published in The Aerial January 2014 edition
The Governor’s Scholars Program (GSP) is consistently touted as one of Kentucky’s strongest and most important scholarship program.  According the official GSP website GSP is designed “...to enhance Kentucky's next generation of civic and economic leaders,”  and was originally created to encourage the top level students from around the Commonwealth to go to college and get a profession in state. The program is targeted towards top performing students and the application process is extremely demanding and competitive.

Juniors told me what they were doing to trying to get in. Erin R. told me, “I joined and applied for a lot of honors societies, like National Honors Society, joined tons of school clubs, and I did a bunch of volunteer work.”

Typically applications aren’t quickly thrown together junior year, though. Many sophomores are planning what they are doing for their application. Arthur G. discussed what he was doing and what he was planning to do for his GSP applications, “I am currently on the Atherton swim team as well as a club team. I also plan to join Beta Club, National Honors Society, and the debate team next year.” John K. told me his routine as well, “I’m in Quick Recall, Governor’s Cup, Marine Biology, National Ocean Science Bowl team, Muhammad Ali Center Council of Students, Louisville Youth Philanthropy Council, and tennis. Then I’m working on getting a summer internships somewhere, work with Me to We, join National Honors Society, and work at soup kitchens.” Finally Ryan V. said, “This year I’m in Quick Recall, Beta Club, Y-Club, and I’m volunteering at Norton Hospital while also helping community clean up crews. Then for the summer I want to get a job.” 

Having this packed of a schedule is typical for many GSP applicants and usually what comes with this collection of extracurricular activities, as well as balancing good grades, is large amounts of stress. When asked how much stress John has because of his extracurricular activity, he provided this interesting comment, “Well actually I don’t really have stress, I just have no social life.” Arthur said that sometimes for his club swim practice he has to wake up at four in the morning for a practice, which in turn is a damper on his social life.

Arthur said he wanted to go to GSP because he wants free tuition so he can go to Centre. John and Ryan’s reasons had a little more depth though, Ryan wanted to get in because, “It would be extremely hard for my parents to pay for me to go to med school or get a graduate degree. It is the same for a lot of other families too,” he went on to say, “I think the point of GSP is to give the opportunity to smart, underprivileged students the ability to go to a great college. When so many people apply, it ruins the point of GSP.” Arthur had a similar idea about the goal of GSP, saying that, “...GSP is just people fighting over money.” Even though their ideas of the goal of GSP is different from the official statement it still has a weight because the students are the ones that participate in GSP.

John’s comment was this, “I am applying to GSP because I feel like I have to, because I’m a high performance student.” This could connects back to Ryan’s statement that too many people apply, because it has almost been taught that GSP is one of the greatest scholarship programs in the state. Saying you went GSP creates a social leverage, a superiority. This is due to the fact so many people apply and put a large amount of their high school years  into just trying to get in.

Recently, competitiveness in high school as has become a hot topic and many critics feel like high schools get more competitive each and every year. “[P]eople feel that they are under a great deal of pressure. They feel that their main objective in life is to do better than other people. That is certainly what young people are being taught in school every day. And it's not a good basis for a society,” stated well known economist on competition in the education system. The application for GSP as well as for high schools, colleges, ACT/SAT scores, and grades follow this idea of achieving better than another person, especially if you back to John’s reason for applying.

Erin R. said she joined because, “I wanted to spend time away from my family, and to meet other people from around the state.” Erin sister had also applied for GSP and had gotten in but Erin said, “I didn’t actually feel pressured to go because my sister had went from my family or her, seeing how she much she gained from it didn’t make me feel pressured but encouraged.”

Arthur’s thoughts were that it was unhealthy because it caused unnecessary stress in more than just getting activities to fill the application, but in physically filling the out the application and the thought of being compared to other students. John agreed with Arthur, saying that, “... it forces people to brag and falsely build up themselves when writing the application. I also think many other people apply simply because they subconsciously believe they have to.” Erin said that at her school the competition was as high as what the sophomores predicted but she did say she and her friends worried about being compared to other students.

Harrison K., a graduate of St. X and participant of the 2012 GSP, spoke about his experience with the application. “When I worked on my application for GSP, 40 other kids also applied. In fact, St. X had one of the largest group of applicants that year, and I worked on just my application for 6 hours.” Harrison is very a bright and outgoing student. He had all A’s, was an Eagle Scout, worked with countless volunteer programs, and was extremely active with the clubs in his school. He talked first about the program, “GSP is about finding a the next great leaders of Kentucky and giving them the tools to succeed and I feel like the program did that when I attended. I mainly went to GSP to grow as a person but I do feel like many people went just for scholarships but I didn’t think that was a necessarily bad thing.” He went to say, “I did feel like there was pressure that going to GSP was necessary in some way. Like it was a title to receive and can easily be interpreted as something but I think no matter what there is a pressure to succeed academically naturally. It feels gratifying to be better than someone else. It is like getting a good score on the ACT or SAT or at least reaching a score you wanted to get.”

Senior at Atherton, Siera H. attended GSP last and is a full IB student also spoke about her experience. “I wanted to go to GSP for the scholarships, and I was already working really hard in high school so it made sense to apply if I was already doing the work. The pressure to join GSP, for me, was acceptable because my family depended on this so I could go to college. GSP made college an acceptable option for me.” So when after you apply to GSP there are checkpoints or levels of judgement. First the school chooses the best applications, those get sent to the district, and then the ones that survive the district go one to the state and at state the final applications are chosen. At each level you are told if you passed or not, Siera talked about how if felt each time you learned who passed and who didn’t, “It was like going through a trial with your friends, and it was really stressful at each level because you really wanted to stay in but you also wanted your friends to get through, too. When you friends didn't make it would be sad, but at the same time it was kind of a relief. I would think to myself, ‘Great, that’s one less person.’ That sounds really bad but it is what happened.”

Harrison and Siera both said they thought that written applications don’t quantify the smartest people. Harrison said, “I thought that extracurricular activities and GPA were given too much credit compared to the essays which showed depth from personal stories.” and Siera thought the application process could be too subjective and that somethings are more favorable to others. Both also agreed they would like to have interviews as part of the application process.

When asked if they thought if they thought the application process was realistic, all the sophomores and juniors said yes, even if rigorous. Many said it will bring some of the best students from around the state but no matter what there will always be some anomalies.

Ryan had said that he felt that it was harder for lower class kids to get into GSP, and that it was unfair for kids who had taken Honors course but were still very smart. Many other students who I interviewed that it was unfair that it was easier for a student to get from eastern Kentucky than Louisville or Lexington. GSP does take into account Affirmative Action (a policy that takes into account race, gender, religion, etc, into account in order to help an underrepresented group when applying for something be it job or school) and many of the students like that but Siera and Harrison said they liked it. Their reasoning was that if GSP was intended to bring together the future leaders of Kentucky then it would make sense to have had more rural scholars because they were the future leaders of their communities.

Mr. Cooksey, Atherton English and Film Studies teacher, attended GSP in the summer of 1990. “When I applied for GSP, I don’t remember very much about applying. I do remember though that recommendations and essays were a big deal.” Now they are more focused on the extracurricular activities, volunteer work, and awards and honors. “I never really had pressure from my parents or teachers to go, most of the pressure to apply came from wanting to stand out from my peers and competition came mostly from amongst ourselves and was self inspired. Now I feel like having counselors come in a tell the whole class about the program ramps up the competitiveness, and more teachers are urging more kids to apply.”

Mr. Cooksey went on to say that outside of GSP he felt that, in general, parents have become more involved and aggressive with their kids education and high school life, whereas academic competition used to be more self imposed.. He said he when he went to Atherton, he remembered one of his friends getting the lead role in the theatre's production of Bye Bye Birdie, and when the student told his parents they barely cared. “I think that the GSP application,” said Mr. Cooksey when discussing the rigorous application process, “tries to get applicants to fit into a rigid outline but I do think they do it for the best intentions. I also think that the academic competition that GSP may inspire is important to improving schools.”

All the students that applied said that, no matter what, the GSP application made writing their resumes and applications so much easier and was nice to have a log of everything they had done in their high school career. John thought that the fact the GSP application was so rigorous while athletic scholarships were much easier to get into was a sign of the fact America still cares more about sports that academics. He did say athletic scholarships were important and people who devote so much time and effort into sports should be rewarded. He continued to say if thats the case, then students in rural counties should be given more credit since they may have less opportunities than kids in urban areas but unfortunately they don’t.

Near the end of the interview Siera said, “GSP has been proven effective, even if there are problems with the application process people are working on fixing it.” Most people who attended GSP have said that the rigorous application and possible competition created by it has been justified through the effectiveness of the program. GSP, though, is only one program though and only one facet of competition in the schools of today.

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