College Admissions Are Not Your Self-worth

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By Richard Shu, Opinion Editor

College admissions are unfair. This is the simple sentiment that prompted Megan Howard’s “A Letter of Protest to NYU,” which airs her grievances about her rejected application to the Stern School of Business, and which spoke to the frustrations at the admissions process as a whole. Admittedly, there is a lot of laughable material in the letter, like her throwaway reference to trace Native American heritage and her tendency to remark on the ethnicity of strangers’ take-away. In a rapid-fire series of disconnected paragraphs she rattles off the reasons why she thinks she’s special, why she thinks she deserves to be admitted, why rejecting her was a terrible, terrible mistake. Her tone does her no favors. The whole letter carries with it the overt whiff of entitlement.

But with entitlement comes wounded pride, which has been an unfortunate feature of the college admissions process for years. Even now, settled at NYU and doing well academically, I can remember the trauma of my senior year at a magnet public high school. There was triumph and joy, sure, but also resentment and bad blood between friends, bloodshot and baggy eyes, frantic-turned-teary phone calls every time a top 20 school released its results.

All across America, teenagers report similar feelings of stress. For the most ambitious students, adolescence has devolved into a fervent pursuit of academic and extracurricular perfection. Resumes have become a numbers game, and standardized test prep is not only a necessity but a billion dollar market. In a well-to-do community near Silicon Valley, student suicide clusters stand as a reminder that schools, parents and even universities have a lot to lose from the overwhelming pressure of college admissions. Stress can kill. It can precipitate dangerous mental health problems and leave developing adolescents shells of their former selves.

If the goal of a university admissions department is to find intelligent, well-rounded and passionate students, universities across the country would do well to reconsider the stress behemoth that their expectations have created. There needs to be a major change in the way high schools view the path to higher education. Colleges should not be an end in and of themselves, nor an affirmation of one’s self-worth — only a stepping stone, as are all life experiences. The real end is the cultivation of a well-rounded, robust and passionate individual. College is an important part of that, but the empowerment of the student should not be up for sacrifice.

However misguided Howard’s letter may have been, it speaks to an increasingly frustrated contingent of students who recognize, even after they’ve enrolled, that their childhoods have been shortchanged. For all her conceit and self-centeredness, it’s at least encouraging to see that Howard’s spirit was not defeated. If only more of her peers could say the same.

Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them.

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, April 11 print edition. Email Richard Shu at [email protected]