The Pressure Cooker: College Applications

Dear Asian Youth,


This year is my last year in high school. It’s scary. I am about to begin filling out my college applications in mere months, and it’s definitely daunting. SAT, extracurriculars, essays, and my GPA are always coursing through my mind. I realize how competitive the college admissions process is. People are constantly comparing standardized test scores and trying to outcompete each other with their resumes. I even know people who collect leadership roles solely for the benefit of “looking good” on college applications instead of exploring a passion for these activities. I’m not blameless either—I’ve definitely considered applying for a position or internship for a new accomplishment to write down on my Common App, but I've always felt guilty for seeing opportunities as a way to make myself a more attractive applicant to prospective colleges. I’ve worked with real humans during these various experiences, and they were not just stepping stones for getting into college.


The toxic mindset that rising seniors are surrounded by is all-consuming. You start wondering and gossiping about who will get into what college and who will get rejected. Suddenly, your classmates are the competition you must beat in order to get into your dream school. Friendships turn into bitter rivalries about who will get a spot.


There is an emphasis on prestige, as well. Ivy Leagues are known as the elite institutions that every high schooler and their parents dream of being admitted into. I feel as though it’s a social game: who can be the best student? If you don’t get into a fancy college, it’s like you’re a failure at life. You become a failure even before your life begins. But what about people who don’t get enough financial aid to attend these colleges? What about people who don’t want to go to college? Not everyone can get into them; that’s what makes them so sought after. Kids are taking advanced classes, not for the challenge of academics, but to show colleges that they are intelligent enough for a heavy course load. Are we working just to fulfill society’s expectations of us? High school ingrains in us that the next step is college. Then, after that, it’s getting a high paying job. It’s a never-ending cycle that feeds on the pressure of young students.


I’m not saying that I don’t want to go to a nice liberal arts college. I’m actually applying for an early decision to a well-known liberal arts school. But I didn’t choose that institution only because of its reputation. I’ve always wanted to stay in the Northeast and attend a smaller college because I am shy. I also realize I am not cut out for Ivy Leagues. I know my limitations. I chose this college because I love the classes that are offered, and the student organizations they have coincide perfectly with the activities I want to participate in during college. I really want to make the collegiate experience my own. I don’t want to give in to the idea that my worth is defined by the name brand of a college.


I think my advice for any younger high school student worrying about college would be: choose a college that suits you. If you can picture yourself there for four years, then I think it will be right for you. I’m not saying don’t apply to any prestigious institutions, but make sure, if you do, you’re doing what you want. Don’t let everyone else sway your decisions because ultimately, it’s you that must go to that college. Participate in extracurriculars that capture your passions because you’ll have a higher chance at enjoying the time you spend. Hopefully, I will take my own advice when I start applying to college.


- Ella