Like other teenagers around the country, I long for the day that I get that email that says that there has been a new status update to my college application, opening it up to read that I have been accepted to my dream school. Schools like Harvard, MIT, Stanford, and UCLA are just a few examples of these “dream schools,” known for their amazing academics, their prestige, and most notably, their selectivity.
The reason these elite schools are seen as “dream schools” is that, for most people, no matter how qualified, they are a dream. While applicants are getting more competitive each year, universities are becoming more selective. In last year’s application season, NYU’s acceptance rate reached an all time low of around 15 percent for the class of 2024 when just four years earlier for the class of 2020, the acceptance rate was around 30 percent ( toptieradmissions.com). In just four years, the acceptance rate dropped a staggering 15 percent. What makes top tier schools seem so unattainable is because of how selective they are, adding onto the school’s prestige and why attending high ranking schools is a dream in the first place. For most people, attending a school like the Ivy League schools or the Claremont Colleges is a dream. From how selective it is to how expensive tuition may be, for the average person being able to attain a higher education at an elite school, or any school in general, is seen as a dream because most of the time it’s just that, a dream.
It’s ingrained in students and their parents that the way to get accepted into an elite school is by one simple thing: hard work. Hard work will help you get amazing grades, hard work will help you balance school and a vast selection of extracurriculars, hard work will help you achieve honors and awards that will enhance your application and in return, hard work will pay off with an acceptance letter to your dream school. While this is true for many students that get into universities and their acceptances are well-deserved, this just isn’t the reality for others.
Applicants get more competitive each year as there is a constant push for excellence. Taking as many advanced classes and getting high marks isn’t enough anymore and you need a vast array of extracurriculars to make the cut. Being a “well-rounded” student isn’t enough either; you need to excel and win national or even international awards in order to stand out. With the “game” that is college admissions getting more difficult with each passing year, this takes a toll on students.
High school students all over the country push themselves more and more in order to get into college, taking more AP classes, taking multiple SATs or ACTs and loading up on extracurriculars to hopefully get an acceptance letter to their dream school. This constant push for excellence takes a toll on students, and as a high school student, I can say that it certainly does. Even with an overloaded schedule, there is no guarantee that students will get into a university. Students around the country are stressed with the constant pressure in order to get into college from not only their families but from the environment around them.
Rather than enjoying high school as being their last few years of childhood, high school is turned into a competition to compete with your peers in order to get into a school. Even though around half of high schools around the country have eliminated the usage of class rank, class rank is still used in hundreds of schools. Students are told that if they work hard enough that they’ll get better grades, and in turn, rank higher in their class and are pitted against each other in an environment that does more harm than good. Of course, competition is defended as a good thing that prepares students for “the real world” where they will need to compete amongst themselves in a competitive job market, but you need to remember that these are just kids.
At the end of the day, high school students are still kids. The stress that teenagers face may seem miniscule to most adults and may just see it as teenagers just being dramatic, but their struggles shouldn’t be ignored. Students have an incredible amount of pressure on them to succeed and meet the expectations that are pushed on them by not just their families but from the environment of the school system in general, some getting more and some getting less but still having the same pressure nonetheless. As mental health problems have risen substantially in the present day compared to the past, there needs to be a more serious conversation about how the school system and the stressful environment cultivated by growing competition that only causes more harm than good for students around the world.