Raised by the Bell

The relentless culture of college admissions, especially among the nation’s elite, has now permeated throughout the lower education system.The message is clear – any form of failure will jeopardize your chances of a promising college experience. Such pressure can be unbearable.

Instead of encouraging personal growth, we are actually stifling it. Secondary schools should encourage adolescents to discover their interests and goals prior to leaving for college. But there is little time for self-exploration with a demanding and protracted college application process.Students are increasingly susceptible to a cutthroat culture that rewards desperation and fraudulence. Ivy League aspirations are synonymous with perfection — earning a B is not an option. Even a stellar GPA and high test scores are no longer enough to satisfy admissions officers.

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Did you receive a presidential service award for your community outreach? Are you captain of the basketball team? Do you have an incredible extracurricular activity that makes you stand out from the masses?Failing to fulfill these astronomical expectations could cost you dearly.Living in a fully networked public sphere means that students are expected to pursue exponentially more opportunities. The wide-scale overworking of students in secondary schools is a direct result of an arduous application process.The current system fosters dishonesty and misrepresentation. Racial and cultural identity remain popular forms of deception on college applications.

The University of Michigan, a highly competitive institution, has come under fire for famously assigning minorities “extra points” in their admissions scoring system. When students desperate to attain admission hear this, the temptation to lie and identify themselves as minorities weighs heavily on them. One study that followed 119 college students between the ages of 18 and 22 found that 92 percent of respondents had lied at least once on their college application resume. These compromises in character suggest that college administrators have failed the same individuals that they claim to safeguard and nurture. No campus is immune to these symptoms, and it’s time to relieve widespread stress.

Admissions officers justify their fierce expectations in order to enroll the most talented prospects, and to gain attention as the “most exclusive” institution.As The Atlantic notes, “prestige is measured in thin envelopes,” meaning that the more rejections, the higher their stature. The system has increasingly worsened. Ten years ago, only two universities rejected nine out of ten applicants. Now it’s twelve schools. These torturous standards leave their own students as damaged goods upon admission, assuming they even make it there.

After students have bent over backwards to receive admission to their dream school, students begin to feel out of place and confused when they either can’t achieve the same grades they once did in high school, or, they are too emotionally immature to handle college life. This is no surprise given their lack of time to do things that they wanted to do rather than what they had to do to achieve admission. Schools all over the nation are seeing a dip in student emotional wellness as a result.Last year’s edition of the UCLA Higher Education Research Institute’s “American Freshman: National Norms,” students’ emotional health plummeted to 50.7 percent, an all-time low.

The number of “frequently” depressed students rose to 9.5 percent, which is a bothersome 3.4 percent higher than in 2009.Stanford’s admission rate fell to 5.1 percent, and Harvard’s wasn’t too far behind at a dismal 6 percent. USC, my university, had an admission rate teetering around 17 percent this past year.

Students are missing out on the most crucial parts of their secondary educational experiences due to the wishes of bureaucratic university heads. Instead of preparing kids for college, we are preparing them solely for college admissions. Maybe if the pressure was less intense for students to be extraordinary, they could to learn to be extraordinary on their own, based on their intrinsic drive rather than extrinsic goals. Students should work hard, and If their expectations are high for college, then so should be their drive to excel in high school. But universities are only hurting themselves and their student bodies if they are ill-preparing prospective students by littering them with emotional incapacities before they even arrive at school.

Fixing this issue will require that all parties – students, administrators, parents, and universities – examine what it means to be a great student. College admissions officers need to create better metrics to evaluate a student’s worth. Instead of accepting the misleading results of standardized testing, colleges should closely place greater priority on every student’s educational environment and its grading standards. Universities must be aware of the intricate differences between every high school and the kinds of experiences each fosters for its students. Furthermore, colleges should create alternative supplements within their applications to allow the student to show additional talents or traits in whatever areas they may be skilled in.

Universities must implement more mental health programs to strengthen their students’ emotional and academic growth.Mainstream outreach will reassure students that they are not alone and that they can develop healthier long-term habits. Parents need to be incredibly mindful of their adolescents’ habits and personality. Exacerbating the pressure of college admissions is both harmful and ineffective.It’s far more constructive to remind students of their worth as individuals.

They’re not merely a number on the Common Application. Tapping high school academic advisors can also be useful if the student’s workload is unbalanced. And finally, high schools need to encourage students to engage in whatever activities and courses are most beneficial for them on a deeply personal level. These choices will lead them on the right path to shaping confidence, emotional wellness, and above all, happiness. The students must also do their part to take the stress off themselves by setting limits to their studies, taking time to just be themselves, and participating in activities due to their wishes, not in accordance with what is missing on their resumes.