My Thoughts on the College Process

Hi!! I’m back as promised. Yesterday was “Ivy Day” and the verdict is ….. Rejected by all three of my three dream schools.

Am I disappointed, definitely. Actually, I’m pretty devastated and probably won’t be doing anything academically productive for the next two days or so. However, now that I’m officially done, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to reflect on the process and share some of my thoughts.

Before I get started, I’d just like to extend my most sincerest congratulations to those who did receive acceptances.

Well, here’s my two cents

The Good

As stressful and ultimately disappointing as the application process was for me, there’s a positive side to everything. Regarding college, there’s actually quite a few.

First, the hype and stress around college acceptances represents a larger emphasis on education, at least in my community. The extent to which the current education system actually provides a complete education is highly debatable; however,  I am incredibly thankful that my community values the intellectual growth children.  The “pressure to achieve”, which I’ll discuss later, is far preferable to the “pressure to get married” or the “no hope to escape” attitude prevalent in many areas (even in developed nations)

Second, as stressful as essays and activities are, they represent an attempt not to reduce students to numbers. I was not only allowed, but required, to escape the textbooks and practice problems to write, lift, geek out on the USSR. All these activities would otherwise seen as a “waste of time” had grades and test scores been the only requirement for university (*cough* China gaokao *cough*). Even the emphasis on GPA over SATs encourages actual learning and academic effort rather than cramming for test or simply improving test strategy.

From these perspective, I’m especially lucky. My parents are able to and more than willing to support any of my endeavors.

Finally, it’s a safe practice for life. Applying for college- the writing, the resume- isn’t all that different from the dreaded job application. The big difference is that the application doesn’t come with the pressure of supporting myself financially. As for rejection, its great practice for the far more serious rejections to come- mortgage, visa, marriage…..

The Bad

Let’s be honest, the college process is ultimately a very rigged lottery. Getting in largely comes down to playing the game, and being able to afford to play it.

This game includes:

Choosing classes based on prestige/ ability to maintain GPA rather than based on ability/interest.

Pursuing “useful” passions that result in some tangible product or honour that “enhances the profile”. No Passion, no problem- just create an easy, impressive sounding one, which is what a very popular (national bestselling) “guide book” suggests

Hiring consultants and taking test prep. An entire industry has cropped up in which parents drop exorbitant sums for consultants to help “package” students. Even those who don’t believe in consulting or can’t afford it often still drop thousands on to prepare for tests that better measure family income than anything. Think college consulting is crazy? Many parents actually pay tens of thousands for consultants to package middle schoolers for admissions into competitive secondary schools known to be “feeders” for top universities. Middle School!

Note: Consulting firms and test prep aren’t necessarily  bad. The company I used genuinely cared about student development and did much more than simply tailoring essays and learning for higher scores. Unfortunately, however, the most successful tend to have a singular focus on “playing the game”.

More broadly, I find the obsession with college admissions a bit problematic. For most of high school, life pretty much revolved around getting into a “top college” for many of my friends and I have to wonder, is it worth it?

Personally, I would have taken just as many APs and put just as much effort into my activities as I did without the pressure of college, but most of my classmates can’t say the same. Even so, there were definitely times when I felt burnt out… as a teen! It’s pretty scary to think that I considered giving up before 1/4th of my lifespan has elapsed.

From an economic perspective, getting into a top school might marginally increase my income, but I’ll never get back those hours spent on test prep nor revive the loss of productivity due to stress.

Also, the obsession with college admissions enforces arbitrary standards that don’t necessarily translate well to life. Regarding these standards,  I’m personally blessed in that I have a very clear “useful” passions (writing, history) , love academics, and don’t mind the grind of schoolwork. However, for some of my peers, this isn’t the case and more often than not, they are deemed “unfocused” or “immature”. I mean does the inability/unwillingness to sit in a classroom really make someone inferior? Do teens, whose brains haven’t developed, really need to decide on a few select “passions”? Are math competitions or piano recitals really more valuable than powerlifting?

Final Reflection

Overall, I’d say I’ve had one of the smoothest experiences with the college experience. There’s actually very little I have to complain about regarding my own experience.

Even though I didn’t get into my dream school, it’s not necessarily a bad thing in the long run. No college curriculum is a walk in the park, but Columbia, Yale and Brown’s are especially difficult.  I spent so much time and effort (very willingly I admit) on academics that I largely ignored the social aspect of high school. Attending a less competitive university would give me the opportunity to actually step outside my comfort zone and stop using the pursuit of academic excellence as a barrier to making genuine connections.

Sorry for the long post. I promise that’s all I have to say for now.

Even though I didn’t get in, my parents still decided it was worth it to celebrate my 4 years of hard work. Stay tuned for a very special review! Until then, I hope everyone has a great week. Bye!

 

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