Public figures including Lori Loughlin (Full House, Fuller House) and Felicity Huffman (Desperate Housewives) along with 31 other celebrities, business owners and CEOs, have made national headlines recently for paying a combined $25 million to test administrators, college athletics officials and coaches, and others to have their children admitted into elite universities across the country. These parents have been charged for bribery and some have been arrested.
Although cases like these are high-profile because it is rare for parents to bribe school officials, the obsession with getting into certain colleges is felt by students and parents around the country. Students often feel pressure to get into a “good school,” but what exactly defines that?
Immediately when people think of good schools, the most elite colleges pop into their heads: Princeton, Harvard and Yale, which top U.S. News and World Report’s list of America’s top universities. These schools, and many more near the top of that list, are seen as prestigious and attract thousands of students to apply purely because of their strong reputation. Because they have acceptance rates under 10 percent and require top test scores and a near-perfect GPA while taking numerous AP classes and dedicating many hours outside of school work to extracurriculars, students go to great lengths and sacrifice sleep, hobbies, and time with friends to make their dream a reality. This pressure to get into a “good school” is often augmented by parents, who put additional stress on their children because they overemphasize the importance of going to a top-ranked college.
Director of College Counseling Christina Bergamo said that the parents who were part of the recent college admissions scandal had the wrong idea of what the purpose of college really is. “As a college counselor, what makes me most upset is the lack of faith the parents had in their students and the intense focus on prestige,” she said. “Instead of helping their daughters and sons find a college that would be the best fit for the student, they chose to ‘handle’ this process for them and find a side door that their student could enter through.”
Every parent wants to see their child succeed and every dedicated student wants to see him or herself succeed. As a parent, it is good to want your child to succeed. As a dedicated student, it is good to want to succeed. But when does it get too far? When we would do anything, even cheat, to get the end result we want? The competitiveness revolving around the college admission process has increased the stress levels of students and parents significantly.
At Trinity Hall, we are very dedicated to our education as we take on a challenging course load, go the extra mile for the “A,” and are heavily involved in extracurriculars. We strive to be our best not only for ourselves, but also to better our chances of acceptance at our dream college. The college process is overwhelming for nearly every student, but Trinity Hall helps students to navigate the process in a supportive and encouraging way. The school provides a strong support system through teachers, advisors and counselors that lets students know that everything will work out as it should. Although Trinity Hall embraces a collaborative and compassionate community, at the same time there is a competitive nature that we foster within ourselves, which can make for a stressful process.
For seniors who are beginning to hear back from colleges, it can be discouraging to learn about other students around the country who have bought their way into the colleges where they are hoping to attend. These students, and thousands of other hardworking and honest students from high schools around the country, have put in countless hours studying and preparing for standardized tests in order to get into the college of their dreams. Senior Diana Ramos said, “Everybody [at Trinity Hall] wants to go to college and has their dream school. You put so much hard work and time and effort into it, and to find out that other people are cheating their way through the system is just frustrating.”
For teens nationwide, college is a highly transformative and educational time of their lives in which they learn about themselves in addition to learning important life lessons. After working hard in high school, a great deal of students think that an Ivy League education, or one from another prestigious university, is their only option if they want to be happy and successful in life. Something that many need to recognize is that for the most part, everyone ends up where they are meant to be and that there are countless institutions that will provide a student with the education he or she deserves.
“I think now more than ever parents and students need to refocus their attention on what going to college really means…What remains constant is that graduating seniors will always end up exactly where they should,” Bergamo said. While it is important for each individual to choose the right college for him or herself, it is more important to be able to live with this decision. As Heidi Stevens said in the Chicago Tribune, “College doesn’t define you. College shapes you. College takes the high school you and molds it into a grown-up you. But the key component there is you. Your ideas. Your work. Your voice. You bring all of those things to college, and college helps you figure out what to do with them.”
These wise words are ones that all students and parents should embrace when embarking on the college application and selection process. Our goal should not be to get into the best universities, as determined by media organizations or society, but to get into the college that best fits each one of us, with our own individual talents, traits, goals and passions.