Although I’m a second-semester high school senior, don’t ask me about college.
It’s currently spring break and I should be enjoying myself — reading, hanging out with my friends, watching movies, letting my mind rejuvenate after a strenuous marathon in my impossible schedule of all honors classes — but instead, I’ve grown depressed by the constant college rejection. Sadly, it isn’t just me.
Too many of my peers have had to switch schools, drop classes, go on medical leave, start therapy and take gap years because they are so beaten down. And, I’m fed up. The college process must change.
According to the Center for Disease Control, the third leading cause of death among adolescents is suicide. The National Institute of Mental Health published that 31.9 percent of all adolescents suffer from an anxiety disorder — a historic high for this age group. Society’s pressure for perfection is crippling.
This pressure isn’t unique to a population of overbearing parents; it’s systemic. I come from a household of hippy-dippy parents who have never pushed me academically, and yet, I feel bogged down by society’s expectations. From a young age, I have possessed an internal drive that stupefied my parents. However, at this moment, I see my internal reliance on perfection as a curse. Conversations with my parents have always ended in them reminding me to eventually sleep, reiterating that my well being is more valuable than an aesthetically pleasing transcript of straight As.
From birth, kids are told to do well in school so they can attend a good college, get a high paying job, and be successful — a timeless “American dream” quantified by a diploma. As I write this, I’m reminded of the subliminal messages I encountered while growing up…my favorite Disney Channel characters attended schools like Berkeley, Yale, and Stanford. I understand that we want to inspire kids, but the motivation to do well should not come at the cost of enjoying their education — or their lives.
The meaning of education has become lost.What originated as an opportunity to discover the greater world, through math or world history, has become a competition for taking the hardest classes for an acceptance or memorizing the most dates for the AP test in May.
The elusive single-digit acceptance rates are misleading. We, teenagers, think and hope and pray that we can be the exception, one of the few offered admission, in exchange for our academic excellence and outstanding extracurricular involvements. University websites promise that their evaluations are “holistic” (a word that has grown ubiquitous and, quite frankly, meaningless), but admissions decisions are, truthfully, random.
We are told to be ourselves in our essays, to show off our personalities. As a result of making ourselves vulnerable in our applications, the rejections feel personal. There often seems to be no reasoning for a decision. It hurts to admit this, but hard work does not always pay off. “Deserving” does not mean anything.
College websites proudly boast statements that this year’s admissions cycle was their most competitive, that they received a record number of applications, and that their acceptance rate is at an all-time low, their yield is at an all-time high. Colleges publicize these statistics without considering the effect they have on the vulnerable, still-growing adolescent brain. Pro tip: the term “safety-school” has grown obsolete, as schools are so preoccupied with their yield percentages that they reject overly-qualified students.
Every exceptionally-hard working student I know — valedictorians, kids with perfect scores on the ACT, friends who started non-profit organizations — seems to have gotten the short end of the stick. Tell me, if you don’t want us, the kids who check off all the boxes, the kids who interned on campaigns, who are you accepting?
I should be grateful for my education and for my options, but I’m upset that there is no higher lesson to be learned throughout all of this, besides “that’s just life.” I have reached a point where I’m just praying that the randomness of statistics will benefit me. The truth is, the pressures that teenagers face are crippling, and it’s getting harder to see the light at the end of the tunnel everytime we see the words “we regret to inform you…”