Standards too high for high achievers

Browsing websites like College Confidential or IvyWise, both of which provide the ever-elusive details of how to get into that one dream school, is an easy way to see how college admissions has completely overtaken the country’s most high-achieving students.

A recent Boston Globe column asked why college applicants must be “so accomplished” in order to get accepted. It’s a strange phenomenon, since the most high-achieving students are those who should have to worry the least.

However, according to college counseling source Ivy Coach, Ivy League universities typically have a narrow acceptance rate of only about 6 to 12 percent. Yet, applicants are brutally similar — many share outstanding academic records, high SAT scores, and a variety of extracurricular activities. These applicants may also be subject to the holistic review process, in which colleges consider a student’s interests rather than solely grades or test scores.

However, the competing need to both do well in school and be well rounded creates a sense of confusion and insecurity among high school seniors, which may permeate even earlier into the high school career.

For instance, if grades aren’t enough, the emphasis on extracurriculars is, ultimately, not an honest way for students to develop their interests, rather means for another highly competitive area of criteria to eliminate otherwise qualified applicants.

In an effort to receive that acceptance letter, high school students may also force themselves to endure the immense pressure of leadership positions, volunteer work and club membership while maintaining a high GPA. A Journal of Adolescent Health study even found that only 8 percent of high school students get a sufficient amount of sleep, which could be the result of a crowded school schedule.

Obviously, such an obsessive compulsion toward over-working oneself is in no way conducive to being well-rounded; likewise, it’s absurd for colleges to pretend that a high-achieving student can be shaped without serious sacrifices.

Community colleges and state schools offer a lower-pressure alternative, but these options often do not fulfill the desire of prestige and recognition that some students feel they deserve after many years of working incredibly hard.

Perhaps, then, there should be more of an emphasis on the interview process or on examining creativity among applicants. Regardless, students will continue to respond to the demands of seeking higher education as long as the current lifecycle of college applications continues. In the meantime, the country is left to wonder what long-term effects these high expectations will have on its youth.


Chelsea Mulligan is a freshman majoring in international studies.