Don’t assume: the nuances of college qualifications

In freshman year, two friends and I sat outside the Whole Earth Center and pored over the Tower’s college spread. We stretched our legs out in the sun for two hours, reading and rereading the list of names, schools, and programs. We wrote down the names of everyone who had legacy connections at various schools, and we questioned whether or not certain students “deserved” to get into the institutions they’d be attending.

As a senior, I can’t imagine anything more awful.

In the last few months, I’ve spent many hours writing application essays, drafting emails to my guidance counselor, and trying to recall where various aunts and uncles got their graduate degrees. I’ve stared at a blinking cursor at 2:30 in the morning, trying to get past writer’s block; I’ve squirmed while watching my parents read very personal reflections.

It upsets me to think that, after all the work I’ve put in, someone might say that I didn’t deserve to get into a school, and I’m ashamed to have been that judgmental back in freshman year. I’ve realized that no admissions decision is completely unfounded, that colleges are looking for a diverse group of matriculants, and that—since no student is the “perfect package”—universities must invest in the idea that each freshman brings something different to campus.

First, there are those who have the advantage of having connections to a school. We often believe that this guarantees admission when in fact that is not the case. Even if they have the additional boost, all of these applicants have put in a great amount of effort in their high school careers. It is rare for any student to get into a college with academic demands that require more effort than the student has demonstrated in the past.

Then there are people who give student athletes flack, arguing that academics should be more important than athletics when it comes to getting into college. But this attitude belittles the work of those athletes, which shouldn’t be trivialized. While one student may choose to focus on the sciences or on English or on the arts, another may choose to focus on sports. Athletes spend just as much time in practice and in training as other students might spend on academic extracurriculars, and often have the same rigorous workloads. And that choice should be equally respected. While a large part of the college experience is academics, athletics are also important: they’re a crucial way of fostering school identity and spirit, and—more practically—they generate revenue for a school. Athletes, like any other students, contribute to the college community. An athletic trajectory, while rarer, is just as viable as an academic one.

Score obsession is certainly prevalent at PHS. Many of us like to latch onto our GPAs and SAT scores, allowing them to define us. Maybe it’s the competitive culture here, or maybe it’s just the safety we find in numbers: either way, limiting ourselves to a string of digits is unhealthy.

Some people tend to forget that success and happiness in life come from more than the extent or prestige of their undergraduate educations. In turn, this mindset creates a hyper-stressful, hyper-competitive environment in which a single bad grade can seem utterly devastating.

This mindset also ignores the truth that all of us are multidimensional, and that each of us is more than a number. A person’s activities, extracurriculars, or personality can speak volumes about them—often, much more than can a few digits.

Websites like PowerSchool and Naviance certainly don’t help. When you can trace the changes in your grades on a day-by-day basis, and when you can compare yourself to every single applicant to a school in the past five years—and see whether or not they were accepted, denied, deferred, or waitlisted—it’s hard to put things in perspective. That graph is blown out of proportion, becoming a litmus test for your validity as a person, and not necessarily as just a science student or a test-taker.

It’s time to stop focusing on where people get into and go to college. In part, we can work this out by spending less time on stress- and competition-inducing websites like PowerSchool and Naviance. We can also try to broaden our perspectives, to understand that there really is life beyond college.

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