Selling Your Soul: The Admissions Game

Selling Your Soul: The Admissions Game Higher education is about the pursuit of knowledge and enlightenment. Or, at least, that’s what we’re led to believe. Nowadays, everyone is under the assumption that a college degree is a prerequisite to live a “meaningful” life. With everyone scrambling to get into as good a post secondary institution as possible, the whole admission process has become trivialized to a rotten game and it’s quite sad. In much of the modern world, grades and standardized test scores make up a teenager’s life for a good portion of high school.

With the increased number of applicants to colleges over the last couple of decades, the bar for admissions has been raised. In fact, many universities such as Harvard and Stanford, among others, have been announcing record low acceptance rates in the past few years. These institutions of higher learning have been forced to rely on numbers to evaluate the worth of a student. But many schools nowadays are putting an increasing amount of importance on extracurricular and volunteering activity.

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Surely, this must inject some life into the process instead of just boiling a student’s life down to a couple of statistics? Well, yes and no. I may be taking a cynical point of view on this matter, but in my experience, and in those of many I’ve talked to, even these sorts of activities have basically come down to impressing a certain college in most cases. There is an online forum for frantic teenagers and overbearing parents called College Confidential that is filled with examples of students asking questions like “What activities does Harvard like to see”, or “Should I join club X even though I hate it to impress this school”. Obviously, this forum is not representative of the general population, but in my opinion, it is clear that many students are shaping their entire lives around this little game called college admissions. And sure, we shouldn’t berate these people too much. They are obviously very goal driven and are just trying to improve their chances in an application pool that is becoming increasingly competitive.

Striving towards a goal is one thing, but changing who you are and trying to fit a mold just for a school is completely different. It’s like going out with a really attractive guy or girl that makes you change everything about yourself just to make you “acceptable” for them. They may be gorgeous, but are they really worth it? As many people will tell you, high school is supposed to be a big part of your life. It’s supposed to be a great time to learn about the world around you and to learn for education’s sake, not to be taught to the test and blindly trained to pass some finish line and then forget everything afterwards. It’s supposed to be a time to discover who you are and to explore interests, not to superficially take part in activities or volunteer in places that “look good”. It’s great that young people are taking college seriously, but making your life revolve solely around impressing some schools you probably know nothing about just isn’t healthy for you or the people around you.

I personally know a few people who have gone after leadership positions in clubs so that they could add the title “club president” to their resume, only to completely forget about the club after gaining the title. Students are not going to benefit from this behavior and neither are colleges. If nobody wins from a process that’s become such a facade, then why do we still revolve around it so much? In short, it’s easy. It’s easy to glance at a student’s resume, see 10 different clubs and assume that he or she will be a fantastic and diverse person. I don’t think colleges deserve blame for this – it is nearly impossible to truly be able to gauge who a person really is through a couple of pieces of paper.

But I think steps can be taken and it seems like steps already are being taken in a positive direction with increasing importance being placed on things like essays where students have a chance to really express themselves or through interviews and other mediums. Colleges and students alike are faced with tough problems in this day and age. Everybody’s driven towards getting into as good a school as possible, but we can’t forget that we are still talking about kids here! Some high schools students are taking on demanding course loads and outstanding leadership positions nowadays and that’s great for them, but they are still teenagers and shouldn’t be held to some unreal standard. I hope that if you are a high school student, you won’t sell yourself or compromise who you are for a college. There are many predictors to success, so don’t let a GPA or an SAT score or some overachieving kid telling you “you’ll never amount to anything” make you think you won’t get to where you want to be.

For many, colleges are a great place to grow up and learn about who you are. This learning process shouldn’t be ripped out of high schools though and students need to remember that they are not just a number, but also a real human being. Whether your future endeavors involve college or not, this is a message applicable to all facets of life. We are constantly required to jump through hoops but we need to remember to draw a line somewhere, lest we become nothing more than circus animals.