Exposing the College Admissions System

July 14th, 2020
Expose the college admissions system. Go for it.

$101,160. That's how much the average cost of attendance is for four years for a college student. You go from a kid to an adult real fast. You’re out of high school and boom! College hits you with questions that can very much determine a huge part of your life. How can one determine what they want to pursue for the rest of their life? How can you possibly understand the investment of college when you are told that any four-year college is better than a community college? The way college is perceived in today’s society is so much more demanding and different than when our parents went to college.


The college system is one of the most corrupt systems in the United States. Not to mention, the system places so much pressure and can cause so many mental health illnesses in high school students. The whole college system favors students who have opportunities, generational wealth, and a support system to aid them with the college process. For students growing up with these opportunities, college is on another level of difficulty. Today, students are forced to go against kids who have been sent to private, elite boarding schools, also known as feeder schools. Today, students are put against kids whose parents can pay for standardized testing prep and college counselors. 


This just isn’t fair. It’s not fair for the kid whose parents are never around. It’s not fair for the kid who has to work a 9-5 to support their family. The college system is rigged and the coronavirus is proving it. As one of the millions of high school students out of school, learning on Google Classroom and attending virtual meetings, I am finally realizing the college education system sucks. 


First, how can you choose a student when standardized testing plays a huge role in the admissions process? Luckily, the importance of these tests has declined over the year and my class, the class of 2021, has lifted all standardized testing requirements. Finally. Although some people may argue against this (and feel free to Brooke) I for one am looking forward to seeing the testing requirements gone in the next years. It is completely absurd that one, very costly, very time-consuming test can determine whether or not if a student is a fit for the school. First of all, I know that many students aren’t the best test takers. I mean—do you expect that every student has a perfect attention span? Next, standardized tests are inaccurate and do not assess each and every aspect of a student’s education. Most importantly, THE COLLEGE BOARD FAVORS THE WELL-OFF. And that is on period. Before people come at me listen. My parents paid for SAT and ACT prep, they also paid for me to take the SAT twice and the ACT once. That’s easily hundreds of dollars. Prep isn’t cheap. However, there are soooooo many students who do not have that opportunity and cannot afford to pay for prep nor take the test multiple times. So imagine competing with a kid who got 1560, went to an 8 hour SAT/ACT prep per week, paid thousands of dollars for Standardized Testing driven courses, and took the test multiple times just to get that score while you are over here with your 1200, one chance to take it, and $0 for any preparation courses. That's the hard reality of the College Board. The more money you put into preparing for these courses the better you will do on the tests.

Personally, college is putting a huge mental toll on me right now. I often have anxiety attacks and insomnia because I can’t stop thinking about my future. It is so scary because college is so competitive. And most parents don’t understand. Mine don’t. I am working so hard towards college and doing the best I can in school, extracurriculars, tennis, etc. but they never see that. It’s definitely hard when I feel like no one is supporting me. It makes me feel more alone in this than ever. How do you feel about college Brooke?

- Shaira Busnawi


Shaira, you are the busiest girl I know. I tell everyone that. And even you don’t think that you are doing enough, that you ARE enough.


I wish I could give you a hug right this second!! It boils my blood thinking about how the wealthy companies of the College Board and the ACT and colleges are quickly deteriorating your sense of identity, your comfort in your own skin, and your physical and mental health. 


I love everything that you said. Your realization that colleges cater to generational wealth is on point. And then there’s the whole legacy thing. I have legacy to some good schools, but I feel so weird about it. I’m really blessed and in a great position—but that’s about it. Just me. I don’t think it’s fair at all. In the past, an even more disproportionate amount of rich white people were in college than today, so the legacy system favors the already-privileged once again. People with fantastic applications might not get into universities that would be perfect for them because someone else has a legacy there. If colleges are so concerned with diversity, I think they should do away with that. 


College should be another extension of your exploration of meaning in life. It shouldn’t become the meaning of your life, and even worse, drain your identity. Colleges claim that they are beyond interested in your identity and want people to explore who they are.


How can students do that when they are slaves to your system, colleges? When they have to set aside their paintbrushes and open their prep books. When they get sick from long nights of taking practice tests. When they pretend to enjoy the speech and debate competitions while they are dreaming of going home to write a novel. They think that they will finally get to explore themselves in college. But for many, this is a false hope. They feel empty by the time they get to the college of their dreams.


The worst part about all of this is that you have to learn it yourself. Since the time you are in kindergarten, you hear about this wondrous “college” thing that, if you work hard enough, you will bask in one day and it will change your life. The “good colleges” are these shiny oases glimmering the future and the closer you get, the more you wonder if the journey there was even worth it? 


And Shai, I am definitely not gonna dispute you on ending standardized tests. I bet so many of the most famous world-changers that we grow up learning about in history class wouldn’t get a very good score on the SAT. Thomas Edison was removed from elementary school because he performed so poorly. 


I cope in kind of the opposite way as you—while you dive in head on and overwork yourself, I pretend like it’s not happening and ignore my responsibilities. In the end, we’re both gonna make it. I just wish we didn’t have to be ground to fine dust, left to build ourselves up in college. 


Here’s what I want to say to you, Shai (and reader): Respect yourself and your health before anything school-related. Make good friends with yourself because you’re with her every day for the rest of your life, rain or shine. Be comfortable with her and don’t be afraid to deal with her deepest emotions so that when you’re alone late at night with her, when the college process gets tough, and when you finally set up your dorm room, you don’t feel empty. 


Anyways, that was a rabbit trail. What steps do you think can be taken to alleviate some of the most corrupt parts of the college system? What else about it is quietly killing us, the students? 

- Brooke Johnston


BROOKE literally you are so sweet and to be honest I am so thankful to have someone like you in my life. It means so much to me to know that you are always there for me through everything. I have felt so alone in this college process already and sometimes it feels like no one is there for me during this. It's the worst when you feel that way. I really hope that one day I can finally feel free of the stress of college. I get so anxious nowadays and always overwhelm myself with stuff to do. I know I’m not the only one. 


So many of my peers have felt this as well. With college season right around the corner, the pressure is on for highschoolers across the nation. College is competitive, tough, and not to mention a totally rigged system. It's so hard because students literally put their entire life on the line and push themselves too far for college. 


It's mentally and physically exhausting and unhealthy for students to stress themselves out. I mean, take it from me. I pull all-nighters because I am so nervous for college. I constantly overfill my plate just to make sure I am prepared. I don’t really know who I am anymore and why I’m doing what I’m doing and I really need help. 

I love how you talk about respecting yourself and your health before school-related activities. I just am like strangely addicted to putting myself through the most even though I know it's probably not the smartest.

You give the greatest advice and I would love to hear how people who are going through similar situations like me can cope with the stress of college coming soon!

- Shaira Busnawi


Thanks for opening up about all of this Shai. I guarantee you that someone feels less alone now. I understand what you are saying about being addicted to putting yourself through hard things. I’ve been there—it’s a dark headspace. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense when you remove yourself and look at the big picture. But when you don’t value the inherent worth that comes with you and only care about the fancy add-ons like school and sports and social achievements… your mind can twist things up pretty badly. 


College can be an amazing thing; it helps so many rising adults find what makes them tick, meet new people, and transition into adulthood. It can be amazing almost anywhere, not just the schools that people get so caught up on. 


I read on Huffpost that 99.4% of college students are not attending an Ivy League school. So is only 0.6% of the population successful and happy? Absolutely not! And how do you even define success? (I’ll go on that tangent another time lol). Many studies show that it is the person, not the school, that determines one’s path in life. We should also stop pretending like people who go to college are somehow better than those who don’t. Is life not more than college? You don’t know someone’s circumstances or dreams or talents. College might be an unnecessary detour to someone’s dream job or something that is just too expensive. Anyone who goes to any college is blessed. 


Take a deep breath and realize that YOU, your inner self, is what is going to carry you and help you soar, not a school. Sure, an Ivy League has great professors. But there are so many hidden gems at other schools. It would feel nice to tell people you go to Harvard. But the quick flash of pride fades and makes you feel sick if you’ve killed yourself to get there. Obviously, that doesn’t apply to everyone who goes to an Ivy and they provide a great education. You just have to weigh the pros and cons. 


So many of us students feel trapped. We feel like there is no way out of this cycle of blood, sweat, and tears. What it comes down to is organizing your priorities in a way that isn’t black-and-white. If you take care of yourself well, that doesn’t mean you are going to give up your grades. In fact… won’t you do better? “I don’t have time for any of this,” you say. Maybe a few days you don’t. But most days, you do. I promise. Maybe there is some extracurricular or class that you need to let go of to take care of yourself. But I promise that you won’t have to give up much. You just have to prioritize your health first, and your performance in just about everything will honestly probably surprise you. 


I don’t know what that will mean for you, reader. Maybe it means going to sleep earlier so you can wake up and actually have a full breakfast instead of just a bar or a coffee. Maybe it’s outlining time to stretch or go on a peaceful walk in your neighborhood or call a loved one or dance or even just sit still for 10 minutes to slow your thoughts down.


Anyways, you asked for advice (lol I’m not the greatest but I’ll try). I’d find your inner child and let it guide you. Let it take you by the hand and help marvel at the world again. Don’t shun your deepest curiosities and needs. Take care of yourself like you would a little sister and don’t scream at her when she makes a tiny mistake. Don’t pound her to the floor because in the end, you love her for her, not the name on her college sweatshirt someday. No matter where you go, you will learn so much and you will meet people that you will love. And they will love you right back. 

- Brooke Johnston