Competitive College Culture is Destructive

It’s March, which means not only is it Women’s History Month, it’s also a high schooler’s nightmare. Granted, we are blessed with a week of spring break, but that honestly just serves as reparations for the mental pain that we are in right now. 

Juniors, including myself, just took the SAT. The beautiful standardized test that historically will make or break your ability for a college career. To put into perspective just how grueling and mentally strenuous this test is, allow me to paint you a picture: It’s 7 A.M. You walk into the school gates with a pencil and a prayer. You and your fellow classmates are shuffled like cattle into classrooms, desks carefully calculated inches apart, all facing the same way. You feel like you’re going into battle and very ill-prepared. You got no sleep the night before because you were busy studying, researching colleges, looking up, “How 2 pass SAT easy” and crying into your pillow. You are now expected to complete a roughly 3-4 hour, 150+ question test on everything you were supposed to have learned during your high school years. The catch is, you were at home for the majority of these high school years, sleeping through your first period. To summarize, I think it’s safe to say that the SAT knocked a lot of people out of commission for a while.

This fact leads me to my central point. That being, the way our school system sets up the transition from high school to college is an atrocity. It has become so normalized for teenagers to sacrifice their mental and physical well-being, all for a chance at getting into the top colleges. To put it bluntly, those Ivy Leagues may sound pretty, but a stable mind is a whole lot prettier.  

I think we all know at least a handful of kids who are currently enrolled in five APs, a zero and seventh period, a plethora of clubs – likely holding high positions in said clubs – and playing at least one sport as well. There are students like this writing for our very own newspaper! It’s incredibly impressive; I don’t think anyone can deny that. The issue is that it has become necessary. 

We have grown to accept that colleges expect children to devote their entire lives to them before even being accepted. Education is a way for young people to become better prepared for the real world, so why are we forcing unrealistic expectations on them? We are teaching them that this kind of stress is okay, or worse, needed to have a fulfilling life. When in reality, most people say life gets exponentially better after school! 

The need to be at the top of your class is understandable. The academic validation is addicting, and I’m guilty of putting these high expectations on myself as well. So much, in fact, that I’ve been in therapy for nearly four years recovering from this! Being smart is one thing, but making a 4.0 equivalent to your self-worth, is another. Your identity is so much more than a college-bound student. 

We are all victims of this broken system. And until radical change occurs, we will continue to pull all-nighters before AP tests and see a college acceptance letter as gospel. I challenge you to ask yourself, what happens after this? After all the hours of studying pay off, after you graduate from your overpriced education with a shiny degree, after you no longer have the A’s to define you, who are you?