All my life, I have been influenced by the college admissions game. I was told what colleges wanted, and I chased that standard. I wanted the 1600 SAT score, the 4.0 GPA, the 275 SSL hours, the Honors Society tassels and to be the leader of a prestigious club.
Now, all I want is my youth back.
Mark Twain once said, “Don’t let schooling interfere with your education.” He was not talking about education in school. He was talking about the things you do not learn in the classroom, like socializing with others, having good empathy skills, being a good person and being fascinated about the world.
I believe that college admissions have ruined my youth. Even in eighth grade, I was worried about college admissions. I would look around the hallways and see people wearing sweatshirts of colleges like Harvard, Stanford, and Bucknell. We were 14 and insane to be worried about college when we should have been enjoying the moment. One person’s stress would rub off on another, and suddenly we were all drowning in the pressure. Together. Falling apart. I wanted to get into my dream school, and I was convinced that there was some magical formula to get in.
I went to my guidance counselor during the third week of freshman year and told her all about my four-year plan to success. I had a paper with every year of high school mapped out. I thought she would be so impressed by what I had written. To my disappointment, she told me to please go away and enjoy my freshman year and that it was way too early in the game to be so stressed about college admissions.
We should be having fun while working hard, enjoying the last few years of adolescence. Instead, we treat high school like it is a marathon. Students sprint for their lives, pining for the sight of the finish line, glancing back every now and then to make sure that they have not lost pieces of themselves.
There are many issues with this way of thinking about high school. If your peers are your competitors in the race to top colleges, how can you treat them as friends? And once you get to the finish line, what happens if you are not happy with the college you are going to? Are your 13 years of schooling a waste when you do not get to go to your dream college?
As summer rolls around, rising seniors do not have to worry about getting into college anymore. If they do not want to, they do not have to be a leader of the American Red Cross anymore; they do not have to help out at elderly homes anymore; they do not have to volunteer at the after-school daycare anymore. Once they leave their high school buildings, seniors do not have to pretend to be passionate about anything they listed on their resumes.
In the world of college admissions, we have almost been trained to feel like passion is more of a prize to be won, not a deep love for a certain subject. The word “passion” is thrown around so often in the college admissions process that it loses its meaning. Instead of trying to find our true passions, we find meaningless passions and look for ways to make them seem real.
Take the University of Southern California’s admissions scandal for example: Olivia Jade’s parents paid William Singer’s Key Worldwide Foundation $500,000 to bribe a crew coach at USC to add their daughter to the team so that she could attend USC. The catch? Jade had no experience rowing. She made up her “passion” just to get in.
Jade’s story exemplifies the dangerous amount of importance our society places on going to an elite school. Her story shows how some people will go beyond moral standards to get into the college of their choice. The stakes are simply too high.
Perhaps kids have to do all of these things to get into the college of their dreams. Maybe it’s necessary to juggle sports, debate team and SAT preparation because it will help students work towards the ultimate goal: standing out from other applicants. Many students want to get into an elite college, and by doing all of these activities, they show college admission officers that they can handle a difficult load.
But maybe, just maybe, the grueling process is just not worth it. High school students bend, if not break, to get into the college of their dreams, and many do not get in. It seems counterintuitive to have students get so worked up about getting into their dream schools if when they get there, they are so tired out from high school that they cannot really enjoy college.
The real emphasis should be on balancing work and play. Pursuing one’s happiness should be a student’s primary goal in high school, not a mere afterthought. We should be focusing on giving students space to decide who they want to be. The chaos of the college admissions world should not be so loud that students cannot hear what their hearts are trying to say. Our hearts are the only compass we have. College Board’s “College Match” search engine does not even compare to knowing ourselves and where we want to go.
These four years were our last years of being kids. We came to high school as kids. We leave as adults. These four years were never about having the perfect GPA or being a perfect college admissions applicant; they were about knowing ourselves and who we want to be as adults. Or they should have been. If I can find that out, I will walk down the aisle at graduation with a smile. That’s when I will know: I was one of the winners of the college game.