Centennial Alumni‌ ‌Assess‌ ‌Academic‌ ‌Preparedness‌ ‌in‌ ‌College‌ ‌

Centennial High School is often regarded as one of the most competitive and rigorous public high schools in Maryland. According to US News, CHS graduation rates are consistently among the highest in the state, at over 95%. In addition, more than 66% of students enroll in at least one Advanced Placement course. 

How does Centennial’s competitive environment prepare students for the academic and independent side of college? We reached out to CHS alumni for insight into how this competitive nature plays out once students have graduated. 

Emily Hollwedel is a CHS alumna and currently attends McDaniel College in Maryland, which she chose for its smaller nature. She took a holistic approach when applying to college and considered factors such as available majors, athletics and scholarship opportunities. She ultimately chose McDaniel College because they offer a Writing and Publishing major, which tailors towards her career ambitions.

“Ever since I was young, I was really fascinated with writing,” she stated. 

Hollwedel enrolled in creative classes at CHS where she says Journalism teachers Lauren Mancini and Rus Van Westervelt, along with her parents, helped pave the way for her academic and professional success.

As for how high school prepared her for college, Hollwedel mentioned that there are some components that high school cannot prepare students for. She believes that while college is vastly different, CHS did prepare her academically and made her feel confident. 

Carnegie Mellon University freshman Sophie Chao echoed similar views. She decided to attend CMU to study art and design because they offer a reputable art program and are proficient in other fields including business. 

Chao believes that CHS places a lot of emphasis on college; therefore, students often experience a lot of pressure. Despite this academic pressure, she believes that the expectations helped her prepare for college early on, which she thinks is an advantage of a school like CHS. 

“I am very grateful for this as I was able to gain an understanding of what colleges wanted from me from my early years, this gave me a leg up in the process,” Chao said.

Although there are benefits to this competitive environment, there are also downsides. 

More specifically, Hollwedel noted that there are differences between the teaching and learning styles. 

“I feel Centennial was a toss-up— there was always benefit in what I was studying, but the environment didn’t always feel welcoming to mistakes or ‘true’ learning,” she explained. “Learning isn’t about plugging in formulas and retaining information, or getting one grade and being done with something. Learning is a process, and it can actually be super useful and beneficial— if it’s done right.”

As an art student, Chao mentioned one benefit that she did not get from CHS is having her creative works criticized at a more in-depth level. 

“There is a different type of pressure that I didn’t see at CHS, that any student going into a creative field should be aware of,” she warned. “It’s a type of pressure that is a lot more personal, when your creative work is judged at much higher levels, critiqued more brutally, and compared to other students with much higher skill levels.” 

Chao also stated that she wishes Centennial had provided students more guidance on selecting a school that is a good fit instead of emphasizing the prestige of the university. 

Despite the academics and extracurriculars offered at CHS, there are also things that high school may not be able to provide insight for. 

“Independence is something unique. Even on the smallest levels— you decide whether or not you go to class if you eat or not, if you sleep or not— there’s no one around to tell you what to do,” Hollwedel said.  “It is a lot of responsibility, but it’s also really liberating.”

Chao agreed that some things students must learn on their own. She added that working as a hostess at a restaurant gave her a glimpse into the real world and helped her build her independence for college life.  

“I realized that college is much more than just studying,” she discussed.  “It’s also about learning to be responsible for almost every aspect of my life. I realized that I have to be in charge of every single one of my actions and deal with consequences on my own.”

Although Hollwedel and Chao have several differences, there are similarities that illustrate the academic side of the CHS environment and their own journeys in college. They both acknowledge that everybody’s high school journey and success is for the student to discover.  


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