Changing Our Mindset About the College Process

Source: Margaux Van Allen ’20

In March, the news broke of a scandal involving 33 parents (including various celebrities), prestigious university coaches and millions of dollars, all with the goal of cheating the college admissions system in order to get the children of wealthy America into top schools. The public outrage and interest following the story was near instantaneous.

Co-director of the college counseling office Jenni Ruiz said, “For some reason… when we start to talk about college admissions… people have this puritanical view of how it should be fair.” Co-director Emily Livelli added, “there’s a lot of mythology around college [admissions].”

The methods of somewhat unfair or unsavory favoritism and preference in the admission system are not all million-dollar scandals; they are not only legal but common. Legacies and students who can afford to attend college and pay the full tuition are two of the most well-known “unearned” advantages, as Livelli refers to them.

For students from schools such as GDS, a private school in one of the most political, influential and expensive cities in America, there is an inherent kind of privilege in the game of admissions. This privilege comes with being a school that has a higher percentage of students who have legacy status at colleges, access to private tutors and the ability to go on campus tours, all in addition to the quality of their education.

Despite all their privileges, it seems that students with more advantages still carry a tremendous  amount of stress, as many race to be admitted into the same top schools.

Ruiz said, “The root of what they’re outraged about is that this is something you have no control over and you don’t understand it, and you can’t just work your way into it. And I think people coming from more affluent highly educated families, they’re used to… having the outcomes in their lives be manifested, that this process is the first time [that it isn’t].”

Livelli shared a similar view, saying that in such a hyper-competitive environment, students “feel at a disadvantage… having gone to GDS and having privilege, all of a sudden they don’t.”

Much of the anxiety stems not only from the flaws in the system but the way that many students (and parents) view the college admissions process. In today’s educational climate, a great deal of the high school experience has been reoriented around the importance of college and preparing to get admitted to the best possible schools. The mindset of “Ivy or bust,” the need to get into a well-known school, is potent and powerful. It is this competitive culture that drives students to load up on AP courses in a bid to impress their reach schools and motivates parents to, say, fake their child’s SAT scores.

Talia Rodriguez, a GDS junior, explained, “I think college is a big contributor to the stress of school… and the way we measure that success.”

“I think the underlying root of this problem is that we’re saying there’s only one path,” Ruiz said. In reality, there is hardly any difference between attending a school ranked in the top ten, or the top 50, or so on. Limiting our ideas of what leads to success – and what success even looks like for all different kinds of people in the very brief part of life that is high school – only will further perpetuate the harmful ideas and behaviors so prevalent in schools now.

So what can be done? To change the system, nothing. Perhaps, then, what we can do is simply take what all the news stories are revealing in stride: the process is imperfect. We can try to step back and enjoy the opportunities that come with the college process, rather than obsessing about what cannot be controlled.

As Rodriguez said,“I mean, mostly, the college process, it’s exciting for me.” It’s the future.

Alissa Simon ’21