Twenty-nine percent of 773 alumni responded to the 18-question survey, with 143 responses from Gunn High School graduates and 84 responses from Palo Alto High School graduates.
Palo Alto alumni reported similar levels of academic preparation — but lower levels of social preparation — than graduates of four other high-performing public high schools, including New Trier in Illinois, who took the same survey.
While only 68 percent of Palo Alto alums reported feeling "prepared or very prepared" socially, 86 percent of the alumni from the other schools felt socially prepared.
But when asked for what advice they'd give to high school students to help them best prepare for college, most alumni focused on the academic.
Student comments were all over the map, but nearly all indicated Paly and Gunn offered solid academic preparation even as they were stressful environments.
"If you did well at Paly or Gunn, you'll do fine at any college," reported one alumnus in the anonymous survey.
"Although it sucks during the college application time to have classmates that are national-level athletes, scholars or both, you come to realize how lucky you are to have been introduced to such talent, and the potential you have yourself.
"If you were 'average' at Paly or Gunn, you'll do quite well in most college environments, both academically and socially," the same student said.
More than one student referred to having felt "crushing" pressure to succeed in high school. But several advised that finding a good college fit is more important than attending a big-name school.
"When I first got to my university I was really scared because people kept saying, 'This is not like high school,'" a Paly graduate wrote. "And it's not like high school. If you went to Paly, it's probably easier. Which isn't to say you can let things slip, just don't panic about it too hard.
Another student wrote: "Unless you go to Stanford, MIT, Caltech, Princeton, etc., you will never again be around people as smart as those at Gunn. Enjoy it and take advantage of it."
Several warned that colleges — particularly at larger institutions like Berkeley — demand a much higher level of individual initiative.
"If you're going to attend a public university, get used to fending for yourself much more," one said.
Another recommended community college as a path to avoid the high cost of tuition at four-year colleges.
Several recommended taking a gap year.
"Try and know what you want to do before you enter college," one student wrote. "A gap year is a great idea. And do what you want. This is your life, not your parents'."
Another suggested that Palo Alto students are overprotected.
"There is an overuse of coddling jargon throughout the district (e.g. talking at great length about 'stress' and 'academic pressure' all the time) that makes it seem as though Palo Alto students are somehow delicate, gently bred, child aristocrats," a graduate wrote.
"Well, in college everyone is on the same level and in the same situation. Nobody cares about how 'stressed' you are — hard work is necessary to get where you want to be.
"Your perfect high-school transcript is irrelevant once you get to college, and however unique and special you thought you were in high school, you're nobody now. Stop whining and start from the ground up."
In the social area, many students advised reaching out to make a wide group of new friends.
"Everyone is starting all over," wrote one student.
"The popular kids are nobodies, and everyone is an equal. That's why almost everyone you will meet will be friendly! They are all looking for people to be friends with too. Say hi to strangers because chances are they may not know anyone yet either!"
Wrote another: "Quit drinking, partying and sleep at a regular hour. There are parties literally every hour of the week, but you'll easily drop out if you're not careful."
Several suggested the required high school Living Skills class could be improved to offer students better preparation.
"Make Living Skills not such a terrible class," the student wrote.
"It's far too sterile for anyone to learn anything. If Living Skills could turn into a legitimate discussion of life issues, it would start to become useful, but right now it's a joke and a waste of valuable time."
Many suggested that life in Palo Alto offers little preparation for the college social scene.
"If you have done well at Gunn you will be well-prepared academically," one student wrote.
"However, the 'social structure' may be quite different. Do not be surprised to see heavy, drinking, partying, drug use and promiscuity."
The advice of many graduates was summed up by one: "Study hard, but have a good time! Make friends and put yourself out there to try new things and new situations!"
This story contains 849 words.
If you are a paid subscriber, check to make sure you have logged in. Otherwise our system cannot recognize you as having full free access to our site.
If you are a paid print subscriber and haven't yet set up an online account, click here to get your online account activated.