College: a choice, not a personality

by Annika Engelbrecht, Opinions writer
graphic by Abby Kutin

As soon as I open YouTube, my recommended list is flooded with college decision reaction videos whose titles boast the user’s nearly-perfect Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) scores, dozens of honors classes and a string of 5s on Advanced Placement exams. All of this, of course, got the user admission to elite universities; I didn’t have to watch the video to know. Simply seeing the titles made me feel that I would only be worthy of these same schools if I had similar scores.

I find myself spending hours fretting over the number of hours I spend studying for the SAT because of this expectation and constantly worrying about whether or not I’ll ever be good enough. Especially now that the waves of college decisions start to trickle in during the coming months, it is important to remind myself that these videos are not at all the norm. Each student brings a special quality, and I’ve come to realize that every student has a college best fit for them. 

In reality, college isn’t the most important thing in life, and might not be for everyone. I know of many people who didn’t go to college or don’t plan to, and some who didn’t get into an Ivy League school but go on to be successful. My mom was the first person in her family to earn a college degree, but despite my grandfather’s lack of a college experience, he still owned and ran two prosperous businesses. My uncle didn’t go to college either and obtained a high position in a large insurance company. 

In the past, society made it seem like college was the only option, but members of my own family prove that this isn’t the case. If college doesn’t work financially or individually, students can still accomplish great things in their lives regardless of whether or not they pursue higher education. 

Getting into a top university or college is a massive accomplishment to be celebrated, but there are so many more achievements that don’t receive the same recognition. Overstating the importance of college can make students ignore and nullify their other achievements. Instead of being known by their name, they’re dubbed “the Harvard kid,” essentially deleting every other aspect of their identity and reducing them to this nearly almighty figure. 

Those who don’t get into Harvard face a similar but different fate. Instead of fellow students lauding over them and giving them prodigious titles, the high schoolers who don’t attend prestigious universities get brushed aside. 

These students are known as the ones who are “just going to some state school,” receiving none of the admiration from their fellow students, but still the same reduction to the name of their future college. It is important to remember that personal values and experiences are more salient to self-identity, unlike the name of a university that someone will attend. 

During high school, it feels like we live and breathe college, and attending a top university is the ultimate prize. In the past few years, this pressure has turned competitive between students, with high schoolers going to great lengths to get into college. A case in point is the publicized 2019 college admission scandals. 

There is so much value in where someone goes to school that the parents of high schoolers have no qualms in bribing and committing fraud solely so that their child can go to a distinguished school. Looking at the bigger picture, though, this constant competition is futile — in 20 years or even 10, no one will care about whether or not you or a classmate got into Harvard. Instead, they’ll ponder what you’ve achieved since the end of college and how you have spent your life since then. 

While society makes it seem as though college defines someone’s self-identity, in the end, it doesn’t. Instead of equating the prestige of a school with someone’s entire identity, society should focus on the numerous important aspects of a teenager’s identity. 

I, alongside so many other students, can’t wait to get out of school and finally be able to do whatever I want, so why should I feel as though my entire identity falls on an institution that I can’t wait to rid myself of? High schoolers’ identities are made up of so much more than the college they end up going to; they have personal victories, stories, moments and qualities that define them outside of school.