No, Commit Culture is Not Toxic

By Jessie Wang (IV), Staff Writer

Graduation season is here, and one question looms over the majority of the senior class — where will they commit to college? Constant questioning and unsolicited advice overwhelms them every day, from “what colleges did you apply to?” to “what were your statistics?” and “what did you write your supplements on?” Even the most well-meaning people can fail to understand how intrusive it feels to be bombarded with questions about college decisions so frequently. The very act of publicizing college commitments breeds toxic grounds for a college-centric mindset that bases one’s self-worth on a commitment and discourages alternative careers not involved in pursuing a secondary education at a university.

It is no secret that the effort and preparation of getting into college has slowly taken over teenagers’ lives. Students joke about doing extracurriculars that look good on their résumé, taking as many APs as they can, getting little sleep and being overwhelmed and stressed all just to get into a good college. This spirals into a damaging competition of who will sacrifice the most for the chance to go to their dream college.

In fact, the whole concept of idolizing a single “dream school” is toxic in and of itself. It encourages students to put all their eggs into one basket, telling themselves that it is the only place where they will be happy, and that if they do not get in, it is just further proof of their failures. It convinces them that nothing matters except gaining admission into their dream school, no matter what the cost is, which is certainly not the case.

When students find out someone else is committing to their own dream school, they are quick to scrutinize and analyze them. Fellow peers become competitors, reduced to mere GPAs, test scores and achievements, only reinforcing a brutal zero-sum mindset. Gauging the achievements of those attending students’ ideal schools places pressure on younger ones to reach the same numbers for this shot at “success.”

The college commitment process builds the kind of competitive atmosphere that places stress on students and leaves many feeling inadequate because they either were not admitted to the school of their dreams, or their college goals do not include attending the most prestigious of institutions. But that should not be the way the world works; the commercialization of the college process and pushing high schoolers to attend highly selective and well-known universities inevitably comes at the expense of others feeling self-satisfaction with their own college choices.

According to Arne Lim at Inside Higher Education, “[It is important to recognize that] the admission scandal is not a by-product, it is a direct product of believing you have to do whatever you can to get your kid into this school. […] We hate those [U.S. News and World Report] rankings here, we absolutely abhor those rankings. You will always hear […] college is a match, it is not a reward.”

Beyond this, the focus on what college students are attending can not only damage one’s sense of self worth, but also lead to students with less traditional plans feeling judged. A college-centric environment sets the bar for achievement exceptionally high and punishes anyone who falls short. The reality is that many of these young adults who do not pursue four-year colleges go on to have wonderfully productive careers in their own fields of interests.

Although nobody can truly be blamed for romanticizing the glamour of attending college, there should be more to being human than one’s achievements. The rapid drive society takes toward traditional but unhealthy measures of validation can force students to miss some of the most valuable lessons and experiences high school can offer. Overpublicizing college commitments reinforces the harmful notion that the validation of getting into a good college, particularly the ones being ranked highly, is the only path to being successful after high school.