Editorial: toxic college culture at the high school

Editorial: toxic college culture at the high school

Every April, hundreds of seniors anxiously await feedback on college applications that will determine where they spend the next four years of their lives. According to data from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, about 70 to 80 percent of Brookline High School seniors make the decision to attend a college or university year after year. Many of those students choose to vie for an elusive spot at highly selective universities and colleges.

Within this group, a competitive culture constantly pressures students to out-do all peers, whether that means taking one more AP or doing one more extracurricular. We pour our hearts and souls into succeeding academically, but in the process we can lose the vital sense of unity tying us to our peers.

The cutthroat environment that emerges from our academic aspirations pits students against one another, and we start to see each other as threats to our own success. In our single-minded quest for the most prestigious university or the largest merit scholarship, we can overlook that our friends and classmates are struggling through the same process.

When we see our friends get into colleges that denied us, we’re hit with an inevitable wave of negative emotions that can be difficult to manage; it’s hard to come to terms with the fact that someone you know so well was chosen over you.

The true problem, the higher education system itself, can’t be made to suffer in the slightest, so students may redirect their anger elsewhere. Unfortunately, this anger often manifests as attacks on peers who were accepted into said schools.

For instance, students chalk up someone’s acceptance solely due to their race. It is unfair to assume that race is a student’s only defining characteristic, and that they were only accepted to fill a school’s “diversity quota.” Not only is it invalidating, but this dismissive reaction is blatantly racist and should not be tolerated in our hallways.

Students who compete for the top colleges should come to terms with the numerous uncontrollable factors that come with getting into a prestigious and competitive school. Because the resources needed to achieve a 4.0 GPA or high SAT score are not accessible to all, this process is inherently unfair.

When people envy others’ college acceptances because we view them as status symbols, we damage our communities and pry each other apart– all for the sake of institutions that feed into power structures that we strive so hard to eliminate from our communities. Why, then, do we pursue them so strongly? Why do we cut ourselves down to fit into their admission categories? Why do we define ourselves by our future colleges?

When we base others’ intelligence on their acceptance into highly selective schools, we perpetuate the idea that college defines our worth. This can be especially frustrating when it comes from students who got into their top choices.

While the injustices of the highly selective college acceptance system won’t fix themselves overnight, we can change our mindsets, and in turn, the environment at our school. For one, we must remember that college is not the end all be all; it’s simply a stepping stone towards adulthood—an optional one, at that.

At the end of the day, a school’s acceptance rate does not determine the resources and knowledge it can provide. A college’s name is just that: a name. It says nothing about how well a school fits your needs or how successful you will be after graduation.

Allowing the pursuit of prestige to consume your life and high school experience is unproductive and ultimately pointless. That valuable time and energy is much better spent elsewhere.

In order to challenge the overly competitive culture at the high school, we need to be able to communicate and sympathize with each other about the injustices of the college acceptance system.

This will help foster a supportive academic environment rather than one where we attack our peers for their collegiate achievements. Students should be proud and excited about their college acceptances without feeling overshadowed or judged by their peers.

It is equally as important to reassess how students define their self-worth. Searching for validation in a college decision is unwise, especially because so many factors exist out of the students’ control.

Instead, we should gauge self-worth by ambition, determination and kindness. Without this holistic understanding of self-worth, students may feel that their four years of hard work in high school were a waste if it didn’t result in an acceptance to a top school.

These students often forget that they will carry the knowledge, experience and work ethic they gained from their efforts into the next stage of their lives. These abilities are far more important than the prestige of their future college.

As many of us embark on and prepare for this next level of education, we must keep the process in perspective. Take time to reflect on your own priorities and separate yourself from a culture that fosters competition, jealousy and racism in our hallways. Every one of us has worked hard to be where we are today and deserves to recognize and celebrate the culmination of our high school careers, wherever it may bring us.