Alumni Share How Menlo’s Rigor Compares to Their College Experience


Staff illustration: Sophie Fang.

Tessa Frantz , Spread Co-Editor

Menlo students often hold an overwhelming amount of anticipation for college during their high school years. Beginning freshman year, students hear about the steps of the tedious application processes. Come sophomore year, they’re encouraged to take intellectually challenging classes by parents, counselors and teachers. And throughout junior and senior year, the entire process becomes a reality as students plan where they want to go and who they want to be in the future.

As a college preparatory school, Menlo prides itself on its effective and challenging academics and justifies its rigor and competitive atmosphere as preparation for tougher, more demanding years at universities. From time management to communication skills, Menlo strives to provide the tools needed to be an excellent student. But we rarely hear about what happens once we leave this school. Does all the hard work that’s put in truly pay off? Are there any lasting negative effects of Menlo’s rigor? 

Alumni Izzy Banatao (‘20) feels that although Menlo was challenging, the rigor was for the best since it prepared her well for future endeavors. “Menlo’s a tough school, but it really prepares you for your future. I think they also provide so many unique opportunities that will benefit you not only when applying for schools but for life in general,” she said. Banatao also feels comfortable in stressful situations because Menlo taught her how to operate under pressure from a young age. “Going to a school like Berkeley, I am constantly surrounded by high levels of stress, so I was prepared for and almost used to that,” she said. 

Similarly, Alumni Jordan Gold (‘20) said that Menlo gave her non-academic tools in order to succeed in her college career. “Menlo forces you to be very communicative and an advocate for yourself, so I’d say that has helped me a lot in my major,” Gold said. Gold decided to pursue a musical theatre major, so her life after Menlo looks different from a conventional college path. Academics aside, she contended that the rigor of Menlo forced her to become very applied in her own success and communicative with teachers and other authoritative figures. 

Menlo’s way of preparing students had different effects on Gold. “I didn’t fully understand the level of Menlo’s rigor until I went into college, into a specialized program that wasn’t entirely academic and more arts-based […]. I realized after talking to my classmates that the level of rigor that was asked of us from such a young, formative age was completely unmatched,” Gold said. 

She also felt frustrated because she experienced burnout in her later high school years. For her, Menlo’s difficulty was stimulating at first, but she became extremely stressed as time went on, leading to exhaustion. “Success was so narrowly defined at Menlo, and I think that was the cause of my burnout at such a young age,” Gold said. 

Because her peers were hyperfocused on their grades and test scores, Gold felt that the way to measure success was by academic performance, an idea created by a culture of academic intensity. Since she wanted to go into an arts-based major and career, Gold felt her perception of success was completely different from what most people at Menlo had in mind. Because of this mentality, she felt uncomfortable focusing completely on her passion and deemphasizing academics.  


Socially, Menlo’s rigor can manifest through competition between students. Though, Banatao contended that she didn’t feel absorbed in competition with her peers. “I honestly never felt the need to compare myself to my friends or even other peers when it came to high school academics,” she said. She also remarks that she doesn’t really care how her classmates are doing in relation to her. “There’s no benefit to me if I focus on how much better or worse I do than my peers,” she said. In contrast, Gold felt that academic success was tied with social success, meaning that academia was a factor in one’s reputation and social status. “For me, success at Menlo seemed like it dictated where you were socially and set a high bar for people that didn’t want to spend all their time on academics,” she said. For Gold, it felt socially charged to want to spend more time on art rather than academic success because that wasn’t a conventional path to take in life. Things like popularity and social hierarchy were at stake, not just grades and academic status.