My bliss did not last for long, though. I felt burdened by the weight of insecurity, from scrolling through Facebook feed (while checking how many Likes my acceptance post had accumulated) and seeing where my peers had gotten accepted, to absent-mindedly skimming various rankings until I found one that satisfied my nascent collegiate ego. As the weekend wore on, my delight diminished. I began to wish I had applied Regular Decision, just to see which higher-ranked schools would have accepted me.
My feelings may seem impulsive and vain – ungrateful, even – but I am not alone. In fact, my “dilemma” is so pandemic that Harvard Graduate School of Education published a report on it. In his article “Rethinking College Admissions,” Frank Bruni describes the results of Harvard’s study, which is part of “Turning the Tide,” a project that explores attitudes towards college admissions. Richard Weissbourd, a director of the project, also conducted a survey of over 10,000 middle- and high-school students that asked them what they valued more: “high individual achievement, happiness or caring for others.” Less than a quarter said caring for others.
And that’s the problem: the derailing, unhinging craze over brand, prestige and appearance that saps students of their natural altruism, their sleep, and their happiness. I witnessed this last year: when faced with community service graduation requirements, many of my peers complained. They had piano lessons, soccer, and A.P. exams. Their parents vouched for them when they lied about shelving cans of soup at the local food bank. They went on to attend prestigious universities with acceptance rates low enough to quell their parents’ remorse over teaching them never to lie while forging signatures on volunteer applications.
Harvard’s report also describes how a reduced emphasis on exam scores and lavish résumés can alleviate the frenzied, “every-man-for-himself” mentality of students and parents as admissions season approaches. Furthermore, if colleges shift focus from A.P. courses and extracurricular activities, they can cater to less privileged students, whose schools may not offer as many advanced classes and who may be obligated to help family members and work.
As Bruni writes, “Colleges are becoming more conscious of their roles – too frequently neglected – in social mobility.” They are becoming more conscious that while some applicants can afford unnecessary Adderall and late-night tutoring sessions, some cannot afford to take a month off of work for an internship or track practice. They are becoming more conscious that those who don their sweatshirts also don privilege. To lionize the college experience takes privilege, and choosing schools by acceptance rate is a luxury that many cannot afford.
I wish I could have thought broader than the quaint, homogenous campus of my Connecticut private school when applying to college. Perhaps if I had stopped memorizing acceptance rates of schools I would never apply to, or realized I would never be satisfied, regardless of which school accepted me, I could have understood that my anxiety was simply fueling the monstrous establishment I was working to combat. Especially because ruminating over trivial circumstances condones neither high individual achievement, happiness, nor caring for others.
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