Submitted By: Clara Lin
Between the months of September and April, the words “ED”, “Ivy League”, and “SAT score” fill high school hallways and weave their way into lunchtime conversations. College application season brings the excitement of possibility and a new life away from home, yet it is also arguably the most stressful part of high school. Why is it that students work so hard throughout high school to take the most challenging classes, the most rigorous extra-curricular activities, and sacrifice their happiness only to be rejected from top schools? The college application process is not a measure of one’s true potential for success, but a game involving wealth, connections, race, location, numbers, and—scariest of all—pure chance.
Although the American Dream emphasizes that humble beginnings combined with a strong work ethic will lead to success, the college application process proves the contrary. High school students from wealthy families invest thousands of dollars on standardized test preparation, testing registration, tutoring, and application fees. These students have a clear advantage over others who do not have the luxury of spending hundreds of dollars to take multiple SAT tests in order to achieve a perfect score. Coming from a school where most students are admitted into selective colleges, it is important to remember that it is the norm for my peers to sign up for multiple standardized test dates as well as spend hours with a tutor every week.
Since standardized testing does not measure creativity or problem-solving skills, I believe that anyone should be able to achieve a high score; it is only a matter of time and money one is able to spend. Once standardized tests are taken, essays are written, and recommendation letters are sent, one’s acceptance is dependent on uncontrollable factors such as race, gender, family income, and legacy. At the most competitive schools where the majority of applicants have the same perfect score and GPA, the fate of prospective students relies on chance. Almost all of these students have the potential to succeed at these schools, yet they are denied due to the sheer number of competitive applicants. Therefore, one student may feel elated after getting accepted into his or her top school, yet another with the same credentials may question his or her own capabilities after being rejected. In addition, factors such as athletics, legacy, and being a minority sway decisions. An applicant with one of these factors may succeed over another with a stronger academic record. Therefore, it is dangerous for students to base their happiness on college admission results due to how little control they have over them.
Colleges are aware of these issues, and their efforts to appease them–scholarships, fee waivers, a holistic view of the applicant—are admirable, but more needs to be done. A large part of the pressure associated with college stems from the community. Coming from a competitive school that is only a bike ride away from one of the nation’s top Ivy League colleges, I can confirm that the looming pressure to succeed is undeniable. It’s hard to remain calm while watching all my friends get admitted into Ivy League schools. As student waiting to hear back from colleges, this makes me wonder if I should have taken more AP classes, played more sports, joined more clubs, or if I am simply just not smart enough. I am not alone in this anxiety, as many students resort to cheating and choosing classes or extra-curricular activities in order to appeal to colleges. This culture emphasizes a key issue of our community—college should not be a competition. While the school one attends does affect his or her future, the emphasis should not be on the ranking, but on what is best for one’s personal growth. The college application process should be focused on what type of experience a student wants for four years rather than rankings and prestige. In an ideal world, a student choosing community college and a student attending an Ivy League school are celebrated equally for making the decision best for themselves. Ultimately, one’s success during his or her lifetime depends on his or her work ethic, ingenuity, and passion, not admission into an Ivy League.
As letters from colleges start filling students’ mailboxes, it is important to remember that college is not the end, but the beginning. It is not the consummation of one’s work in high school that hopefully results in admission to a top-ranked college; it is the start of four years of finding one’s passions, independence, and self-identity.