Senior Class Instagram Accounts Highlight GDS’ Competitive College Culture

Digital illustration by Ivy Sand.

As summer comes to a close and the school year begins, I would hazard that one topic hangs heavy in the minds of GDS seniors: the college application process. This preoccupation comes as no great surprise, as the high school is—in the words of the GDS website—college preparatory, boasting that it sends “100% of its graduates to colleges and universities throughout the world.” 

The college process, though stressful, is also presented as exciting. As stated, for example, in a June email sent to rising seniors from the college counseling office, it is an opportunity to make “decisions that are grounded in your own values despite the external pressures, narrow societal definitions of success and superficial indicators of prestige.” 

The way GDS students talk about college applications, however, indicates that the student body’s attitude towards the process is heavily tainted by such notions of prestige, status and success. I have all too often fallen victim to the entitled, frivolous thinking, perpetuated (consciously or not) by my peers and me—sometimes even wondering whether I’ll be proud of my future college decision given the reductivist metrics (such as perceived reputation) used by organizations like the U.S. News & World Report to define a “good” institution.

While many students might not subscribe to the corrosive college admissions culture, certain practices highlight its superficial nature. Over the past few years, for instance, annual Instagram accounts dedicated to celebrating GDS’ senior class have appeared, so students can announce their college decision to the world. 

These Instagram pages may very well aim to uplift our peers, but the conversations I have overheard (“He got into that university? I didn’t think his grades were all that good…” or “She’s crazy for changing her decision—if I got into that school, I wouldn’t change anything”) about them suggest that they may do the opposite. What begins as a simple announcement instead becomes a call for congratulations, a benchmark for others, put bluntly: a boast. Because if not that, then what purpose does broadcasting your decision online serve? 

Although GDS cultivates a friendly and accepting environment, it nonetheless harbors an undercurrent of rivalry that the college application season only exacerbates. And as anticipation and anxiety build prior to and during the process, some students turn secretive, others boastful, and speculation runs rampant. 

Myriad factors inform a person’s college decision, and to blindly judge someone’s choice is exactly the type of facile thinking antithetical to GDS’ core values—not to mention that the metrics used to deem a school ‘prestigious’ are deeply distorted and should be questioned by any student with even a glimmer of critical judgment. 

Aiming to attend a well-resourced, quality institution is not the issue, but the way we boast about and judge each other for it is. I know that the way we talk about college will not change overnight, and that some may feel that it doesn’t need to change—that rivalry and judgment are natural parts of the process. Announcing your college decision on the Class of 2024 Instagram may be an exciting prospect, and one can easily fall into the trap of speculating about another’s grades. I simply ask that we think more critically about why we engage in these vain, competitive behaviors. Why do we allow a process dominated by imperfect measurements and random chance to define our self-worth?

In a world where we are evermore alienated from ourselves, evermore encouraged to imagine ourselves from others’ perspectives, the college process can easily morph into a rat race, inspiring apprehension and needlessly cutthroat ambition. Let us not fall victim to base envy and conjecture, but rather prioritize self-fulfillment and support one another as we strive towards May 1.