Commentary: College prestige is a moronic marker of success


Ali Juell

The admissions process can create a lot of stress for students, but is it worth all the anxiety?

At a time when there is very little to enjoy, I feel like my mind is swallowed up by one topic more than it would be in a normal senior year:

College admissions.

I check my portals all the time, I peek at the admissions blogs of schools I’m interested in consistently and I can’t stop watching college reaction videos.

Mostly it’s because I’m looking forward to a time when coronavirus is over and I can be in a new environment and meet new people, but I think it’s also largely because of my fear.

I’ve been scared ever since I hit submit on my applications about my future.

Going into journalism (a notoriously low paying profession), I feel like it’s critical to attend a prestigious university for the sake of my future. I find myself believing I absolutely have to attend one of the schools considered to be the best in journalism based solely on the rankings I find on a website.

And I resent myself for it.

I resent caring about the prestige of the journalism schools I’ve been offered admission at and choosing to apply to some schools just because they’re well-known.

I resent this entire process, as the time I’ve spent applying to college has shown me how biased it seems to be in favor of  a certain kind of candidate.

It favors kids who have the luxury and forward focus to have thought about college throughout their entire high school career.

They knew which classes they would take to boost their chances, the amount of volunteer hours they would require to be a shoo-in and the extracurriculars that would push them over the edge.

It favors people who do most of their actions with the consideration of, “will this get me into an amazing college?”

A study found that only 13.5% of students at Ivy-League colleges are within the bottom 50% of the national income distribution. To me, this statistic only emphasizes the disparity in opportunity for the lower and lower-middle class.

The admissions process seems like an unfair system to so many people who did not know how to manipulate their chances of getting into certain schools, people who maybe didn’t have the time or support to make their future the major consideration in their present actions.

The admissions process seems like an unfair system to so many people who did not know how to manipulate their chances of getting into certain schools, people who maybe didn’t have the time or support to make their future the major consideration in their present actions.

— Ali Juell

There are a lot of kids in the United States that have other responsibilities other than school. Some have to work to support their family, some have to take care of other family members and some simply are not raised in a nurturing environment that allows for academics to occupy the majority of the space in their mind.

Some have the attitude that those teenagers of challenging circumstances can still work hard to achieve similar results to others, which is true. But it is multitudes more difficult for them to achieve those results, so how can we expect that of them?

How can it be considered fair that we ask them to produce at the same level when the metrics aren’t built in their favor?

One’s school grades and courses don’t take into account the other facets of one’s life. 

The “one size fits all” of the high school grading system creates equal treatment in an environment where every student’s circumstances and ability to learn is different.

It’s not fair to place the same set of expectations on one child who is free to focus on their academics while another struggles with taking care of their family in addition to school; the situation of the latter allows the system to set them up to fail.

It’s absolutely improbable and disrespectful to those kids to put the expectation that they need to work many times harder when that is in no way easy. It should never be expected for someone to overcome their challenges as everyone handles the struggles of their life differently.

Which we should all surely know from experience is okay.

So many of those very kids would probably be successful students if not for the circumstances they face.

College applicants have the option to list any extenuating circumstances they face, but this option isn’t applicable to many struggling students. This section is primarily useful to kids who may have broken an ankle and had their grades for one semester dip slightly as a result, not to the kids who have had to deal with hardship for the entirety of their education.

I don’t believe there is really a way to fix this issue. It’s hard to determine someone’s drive without evidence, but this is what makes me believe there should be less emphasis on the Ivy League and other equally prestigious schools.

Many of the kids in attendance to schools like Yale or Harvard were given the time and opportunity to make school their main focus. Their daily challenges were primarily their economics grade or whether they were going to become president of a club.

Those who do end up at high-regarded universities are surely hardworking and motivated; that’s blatantly undeniable. 

But that doesn’t mean that there are not other students who would have probably done great things, amazing things, with the jump start many kids get from the brand-name recognition of their alma mater.

My point at the end of all this is the people who end up at places like Northwestern or Harvard or whatever top university aren’t automatically better than the other 95% of the population.

In most cases, they’re really just lucky to have been bred in a way that made it easier for them to get there.