How We Experience Stuyvesant: Perceptions vs. Reality

Freshman Year


Walking across the bridge on the first day of school, freshmen often have a set idea of what a Stuyvesant student looks like: hard-working, good at math, and socially reserved. Or perhaps the Big Sibs stand out in their minds, and they picture a warm and bubbly environment. Many freshmen are therefore surprised to discover that most Stuyvesant students do not fit either of these molds.

Just like at any other high school, your first year at Stuyvesant means getting to know fellow classmates. Every freshman class is different, but in general, you will not have to contend with the exclusive cliques that often form at other high schools. Instead, loose divisions are drawn along the larger spectrum of sociability: introversion and extroversion.

Also, many freshmen will be creating and becoming more active on Facebook. While there is a certain amount of insightful advice and communication on Facebook, it is also a great source of procrastination, and sometimes, hostility—Stuyvesant, despite its glamorous online rankings, is not immune to cyber-bullying. Facebook is also how you will acquaint yourself with all 800 of your classmates. For those coming from smaller schools, adjusting to such a large school is a daunting prospect, which means they would need to be able to find several dependable friends and fight for attention in classrooms and social outings.

Furthermore, not all Stuyvesant students are STEM-oriented. While they tend to be good at math, the vast amount of humanities-focused extracurriculars shows that Stuyvesant students also thrive in non-STEM subjects. You will find many of your favorite teachers in the humanities.

Many Stuyvesant students probably picked Stuyvesant without a second thought simply because it is considered the “#1 public high school in NYC.” Supposedly proof of the benefits of a meritocratic system when it comes to high school admissions and, likewise, academic success, many freshmen come into Stuyvesant  braced to face hard work. But many are also under the impression that a good work ethic and a desire to do well will inevitably translate into academic success—in The Spectator’s survey for incoming freshmen, the vast majority of freshmen predict they will be in the top 50 percent of their class.

They soon will find that a portion of academic success at Stuyvesant is far more arbitrary, such as getting the luck of the draw with teachers. Hard work and showing you care about the subject no longer guarantee high grades. Many students find that they have to totally change the way they study: they cannot cut corners anymore, especially since many freshman subjects are heavily memorization-based, such as biology.

Many incoming freshmen often see an unrealistic side of Stuyvesant at Open House and other publicity events. Much like any other institution, Stuyvesant attempts to put its best foot forward, but at times this clashes with presenting a balanced image of the school. Not everyone who attends our school fits the cheery and vivacious personae adopted by the Big Sib and ARISTA tour guides, and not everyone loves school. Nearly everyone, however, has felt overworked, overwhelmed, and near a breaking point during their four years. Freshmen should realize this sooner than later, and be open to constructive adversity.




Sophomore year


Supposedly the breather year between the shock that comes with being thrown into high school and the worst year of your life, sophomore year comes with its own challenges. You find yourself in that awkward position of looking down on the freshmen, but at the same time, not actually being an upperclassman yourself. With one year of Stuyvesant under your belt, you enjoy some of your newfound privileges.

You begin to realize that your freshman attitude of choosing to pursue either sleep, social life, or grades is naive. Instead, the triangle becomes more intricate, allowing each student to choose his or her own balance between the three. One of your friends may focus primarily on grades while attending a few out of school events and getting an average amount of sleep each night.  Others may chose to place emphasis on their social lives while still getting decent grades and some sleep.  

Social groups start to crystallize this year as people with similar extracurriculars and academic interests begin to band together into small cliques. These social groups aren’t arranged into the typical high school popularity hierarchy and play a relatively small role in everyday Stuyvesant life. Most people don’t seem to care what social group you’re a part of, but rather focus on your accomplishments and academic achievements. Many students jump around in different peer groups and even find themselves belonging to a few different ones.

In a high school that is perceived to not have a “social scene,” you’ll begin to discover a party culture. This, too, correlates to popularity; depending on your friend group, you may find yourself either unexposed to party culture or completely submerged in it. Either way, rumors about FAP and SAP are hard to miss.

Around the same time many students discover party culture, they also find out about drug use. Seeing their peers pursue illicit substances comes as a shock to many sophomores, most of whom came to Stuyvesant with the perception that students do not do drugs, an image the administration works hard to maintain.

When it comes to grades, students are much more accustomed to the workload and develop an understanding for which classes are easy to slack off in. They start to see that one can get by with spending less time on assignments, or even not doing homework for classes in which the teacher doesn’t care. Time management becomes exponentially better as you do your homework during frees and lunch, or even during your easier class periods just to get an extra 30 minutes of sleep.   



Junior year


It’s often said that junior year is the hardest. As the college application process draws near, everyone around you is pressured to raise their averages and to succeed in extracurricular activities. Junior year, defined by difficult courses, full schedules, and sleep deprivation, is perhaps was what you imagined Stuyvesant to be like: however, the reality is far more nuanced.

Junior year serves as a period of transition. This will be your first time taking multiple APs. It’s also when your teachers begin to demand and expect more. Though there is more GPA-comparing and grudge-holding than should exist, you will begin to experience a communal spirit. Many of your peers will be more than willing to help you out with coursework and homework, and your classes center around group discussions.

Perhaps this is best proved when more of your acquaintances use the contemptible colloquialism “snake”: students who take advantage of their peers in classes. Within the pressure cooker that junior year is often described as, you will grow closer to your peers and distance yourself from “snakes.”

Early into Stuyvesant, you have probably realized that the immense amount of work assigned by teachers is simply too much to complete. By junior year, unique sleep patterns have developed, and the Stuyvesant social life-sleep-study triangle proves truer every sleepless night. You will often find it necessary to make sacrifices in order to maximize sleep: choosing between homework that is simply “busywork” and homework that is meaningful for your education.

Though you adapt to the increasing workload, some of your peers have more trouble. Many students joke about their teachers giving them anxiety and sleep deprivation, or laugh and say “I’d rather kill myself” in moments of desperation — but one of your closest friends is actually suffering from panic attacks, and you sometimes notice her disappear from school. Though her social circle knows about her situation, there is a general silence, stretching from administration to children, around mental health struggles.

A common coping mechanism is illicit drug use. What began as curiosity in sophomore year turns into a culture, whether it be marijuana to relax or Adderall to study. At first, seeing your once wholesome and innocent friends high is a little troublesome, but by the end of the first semester it is common, and even a source of laughter. There is peer pressure—it seems the popular crowd uses drugs most heavily—but you do not become involved.

You find your friends trying to sell you tickets to parties, even convincing you to give the culture a try. You hear stories of classmates hooking up and getting drunk and even feel compelled to witness the spectacle yourself. If you’re part of a more popular clique, you start seeing yourself at a lot of these parties, and that side of Stuyvesant slowly begins to seep into your identity.  

Attempt to make small talk with anyone, and invariably the conversation will shift to college. This, above all, is regretfully the frame of junior year social life. Stuyvesant is a self-selected, higher-achieving student body, and thus it is only reasonable that you are concerned about college.

However, you will soon discover that discussing college is distracting and tangential. Instead, choose to focus on improving grades and succeeding in extracurriculars: junior year is a journey, and college is not the only endpoint.




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