OPINION: Competitive culture breeds college elitism

Haven’s students’ competitive nature has led to a hierarchy of colleges, putting pressure on students.

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Rhys Hals '23

SAT prep books line the shelves in the counseling office.

Rhys Hals '23, Haven Happenings Editor

The college application process should be a unifying time for the senior class. Yet, at Strath Haven, an already stressful environment breeds even more competition than usual as students take on the challenge of planning their future. As more people apply to more colleges and universities, they become more selective, and name recognition, “prestige,” and low acceptance rates take priority in institution qualities. 

Although some students prefer to keep their college plans private, many share their experiences, and some take it as an opportunity for competition. A process that should be very personal becomes a matter of status. Instead of ensuring that a college has the right balance of work and social life, right setting, right programs, etc., students hunt out the best names and lowest acceptance rates. 

It’s not hard to find students with the mindset that public universities, or those with an acceptance rate of higher than, say, 30 percent, are “lesser-than.” Even without explicitly saying this, many students exemplify this idea in the way they compare universities to one another. 

No matter how hard one tries to avoid it, this attitude is infectious. Senior Nick Cardi was impacted by these ideas, and it affected his college list.

“Part of the stress of the application process for me has been ‘are the schools I’m choosing gonna fit to the standards at my school, are the kids gonna look down on me?’” Cardi said. “The way other people perceive you at your high school has played a big role in how I’ve considered which colleges to apply to.”

We need to learn to watch our language and not perpetuate harmful ideas that certain institutions are inherently better than others.”

Students are too quick to attach labels to schools which can then spread to the person attending that college, becoming their label. These comparisons breeds the toxic environment that Strath Haven students often complain about. 

Senior Supraja Sudarsan brought the issue of stress and college to the school board and Superintendent Dr. Marseille in her role as school board representative.

“Everything’s a competition, so if you can make the school you get into a competition, might as well. Might as well give yourself another title,” she said. “Dr. Marseille was actually kind of unaware about the amount of stress that we go through…and the fact the school board didn’t understand what seniors went through, and how long everyone feels stressed, was actually kind of shocking. So I’m glad I could put things into perspective for them.”

Sudarsan praises Strath Haven for not having a class rank or weighted GPA as it removes some competition. But the point of that is lost when students compare themselves anyway. 

To make this tough time the most bearable, we need to learn to not compete with one another.

Where you go to college doesn’t define you, nor make you a better or worse person or even student. Picking a college is not something that should be taken lightly and certainly not something that should happen under the influence of peers. 

Everyone should learn to mind their business when it comes to college applications, and realize that college is ultimately what you make of it and not the name on your diploma. We need to learn to watch our language and not perpetuate harmful ideas that certain institutions are inherently better than others.

Most of all, we need to overcome our culture of competition and elitism to make Strath Haven the least stressful it can be.