Mental Health and the Obsession with College Admissions

High school no longer serves as an opportunity for self-discovery; rather, it encourages students to fit into the molds set by admissions officers.

All students dream of attending the “perfect” college when they are in high school. The excitement of thinking about how it’s the next big milestone is truly unmatched. However, one thing that doesn’t get talked about enough is how nerve-racking and toxic that process can be. We can all agree with student Gigi Alfonso when she writes that TV shows like Gossip Girl and Gilmore Girls make it sound much too easy for students to gain admission to prestigious universities like Columbia and Harvard. College application season is undoubtedly the most overwhelming high school experience, with the belief that a person’s worth is determined by the name of the college they attend not only putting students under extreme stress, but also driving them to set unrealistic standards for themselves. The process is so staggering that even parents get highly involved in it, meaning students are pressured not only by themselves and their schools but by their families, as well. Due to its results— namely, university selectivity— conditioning everyone’s brain to believe that only the Ivy League can offer a proper education, it must be reinforced that the name of your university will not be the sole determinant of your success.

As a student who cares deeply about the numbers on her report card, I always question why, no matter how much I try to convince myself that the name of my college doesn’t define my future, I still care so much about attending a prestigious university. Is the process of college applications flawed in itself? For example, New Yorker writer Matt Feeney discusses how many high school students take rigorous courses and pursue various extracurricular activities not because of passion and interest, but simply because they look good on a transcript. High school, then, no longer serves as an opportunity for self-discovery; rather, it encourages students to fit into the molds set by admissions officers. Countless students, then, may manage to get into an elite school but find themselves totally lost when their college lives begin.

Additionally, students have other important things to worry about beyond simply getting in. For example, financial stress from the extreme prices of private institutions manifests itself in many forms throughout the both application process and actual university experience. While some students are already left totally incapable of attending or graduating college due to lack of funding, those who do try applying for financial aid are often left on their own and find themselves extremely stressed. Subsequently, at college, more responsibilities— especially in regards to money— are placed on students’ shoulders. 

Even if we disagree with this system, we still fall for it. Anytime we hear that someone attends Yale or Stanford or Princeton, our automatic reaction is, “Wow, they must be really smart!” But that isn’t necessarily true. Having the perfect statistics does show hard work and determination, but it does not define intelligence. Unfortunately, although standardized tests such as the SATs and ACTs disadvantage brilliant students with test anxiety, they continue to serve as one of the gateways to elite schools. As a result, students’ mental health is negatively affected and their views on intellect are distorted. 

It is natural to have a “dream school,” but this whole concept can end up being a huge disappointment to students. Like Gigi mentioned, sometimes even the top applicants, despite fulfilling all the requirements, don’t get into their dream schools solely because the college doesn’t have any space to offer. Students, then, should understand this: it does not matter what college you decide to attend. At the end of the day, what will matter is what you make of your university experience through all that you learn and achieve.

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