The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)
The ‘Colleges like ...’ echo chamber
“Colleges like .... ”
Ask yourself, how many times have you heard that phrase escape someone’s lips? The most likely answer is that no matter your station in life, you’ve heard that phrase uttered on more occasions than you can count. Whether it comes from a parent, school counselor, aunt or even a next-door neighbor, everyone claims to know what “colleges like” in prospective students. Everyone has an opinion on the matter, yet they mistake it as fact and convey it as such to their audience.
How is it that so many people, from high school students to their teachers, from your friend’s mom to your grandpa’s golfing partner, can speak with such confidence about what “colleges like”? The answer is that their confidence is false. What is it that qualifies them to speak on behalf of the 6,000 institutions of higher education here in the United States and what is each of these individual institutions “likes” in prospective students? The answer is nothing.
Yet this widely accepted culture of every Tom, Dick and Harry being a college admissions expert is not harmless. This culture has led to the creation of a college application echo chamber in which parents and students such as myself become trapped within, forced into unhealthy conformity.
Parents and their prospective college students are effectively given a formula on what they need to do to fashion themselves into the ideal candidate that “colleges like.” And why would anyone doubt the veracity of the formula? After all, it is a consistent message that is repeated and regurgitated over and over.
The culture of the college application process has made students like me feel that we have to do this activity and take that class. I cannot express the number of times I have heard from students at my high school that they have to join a certain number of clubs, or have to play a sport they have no interest in. That they have to double up and take two math classes in order to take an AP, or that they have to make a run for student government. That they have to get into the National Honor Society or have to obtain a flashy internship in a certain field. When students like me are made to feel that we have to focus on resume fillers in accordance with the recommendations of others, rather than what genuinely interests us, it increases the stressful urgency and diminishes the valuable self-exploration of the college application process. That is inherently wrong.
After all, an individual’s college application should be a source of deep personal pride and individuality. I know it will be for me. The application at its core is a personal statement, a summary of who an applicant is, and what they have accomplished thus far in their life. It should encompass a high schooler’s interests, passions and personality. So who is anyone to tell you what should be in your application? Who is anyone to tell you what your interests should be? Who is anyone to tell you what your passions should be? Who is anyone to tell you who you should be?
As a society, we have lost touch with what the college application process should be, a celebration of achievement and an accurate representation of who the applicant is. Instead, it is a wasted opportunity that we treat as a list of things we are supposed to do and boxes we are supposed to check based on what everyone says “colleges like.”
Now parents, I get it. I too have a mom and a dad who are demanding of me and want the best. Much like all parents, they rightfully believe that getting into a good college is important. At the end of the day all parents, including mine, want the best for their children. But instead of forcing your high schooler to conform to what everyone says colleges want, let your kid explore their interests and develop genuine passions. Let them further their individuality rather than push them towards unhealthy conformity.
And to my fellow students, take this opportunity to explore who you are. Don’t let anyone tell you what you should be or should do because that’s what “colleges like.” If you don’t have any passions yet, keep looking. And if you do have some passions, further them, even if they don’t involve debate club or flashy internships. Use the college application process as an opportunity to discover who you truly are and showcase that.
As a culture and a society, it’s time we shut down the “colleges like” echo chamber and embrace the process of college applications as one of celebrating our own unique individuality and passions, whatever they may be.
We have lost touch with what the college application process should be, a celebration of achievement and an accurate representation of who the applicant is.