Throughout this school year college applications have loomed ominously over our heads. We Juniors are told we need to start thinking about how appealing we will be to colleges which means not only worrying about our grades and our SAT scores but also partaking in extracurricular activities (for CAS hours). One scenario we are presented with over and over again is if two people apply to a prestigious college, have perfect SAT scores, perfect grades but one of them didn’t do much outside school and the other joined lots of different clubs and engaged in various activities outside school the latter will be accepted. Not only are teenagers expected to perform off the charts in school but to be socially, creatively and physically fit. Colleges are looking for leaders, virtuosos, accomplished athletes; charismatic, “interesting”, ideal individuals. In other words they are looking for evidence of a so-called defined identity, a “strong personality”. To me that expression makes no sense. It’s ridiculous because not only do colleges have a narrow criteria for people they are looking for these institutions also expect people to define their personality in a way that is not possible and maybe not desirable at such a young age. Peoples’ personalities are never clear and simple enough to convey in a couple sheets of paper. Therefore to satisfy colleges’ expectations we are forced to put together a false narrative and create a character out of ourselves, as if we were selling an idea.
This year a variety of clubs have sprung up to supply the CAS hours necessary to impress colleges. Part of creating and joining clubs is specializing yourself and sticking to something your interested in and another is demonstrating you are a well-rounded individual. Again it’s tied into this notion of proving you’re “someone” to colleges. Additionally, because the accumulation of CAS hours requires the documentation of a supervisor it often involves group activities and creates pressure for individuals to be constantly social. College applications dictate our hobbies and our already limited free time. Rather than writing on one’s own, a 11th grader is forced to allocate his or her time to taking a group writing class. Of course, students get to choose what CAS hour activity suits them but the activities which can be properly documented are limited and may limit some peoples’ ability to continue their personal hobbies (such as writing in a journal, drawing at home, maintaining a blog). Also, with so much of their time snatched from them, students have very little time to relax, think, to feel sad, to reflect, make mistakes, waste time or be bored which, in my opinion, is crucial to development.
The college application process has changed drastically (since our parents were young), deeply affecting students’ lives. Clearly a more efficient community is developing. But are we really more engaged with life? When we have no time to have a bad day, no time to experience life on a emotional level? We may be getting stuff done, but what kind of memories will we have when we are adults; will our teenage years just be a blur of monotonous work? What kind of nostalgic reminiscences, what kind of sentimental stories could we possibly have to tell? How can we truly understand ourselves and figure out the course of our lives when we are so distracted with proving we are the persons we are expected to be? When will be out of the the system, how will we know what to do when thus far we’ve had someone telling us what to do 24/7? How will we handle freedom and decision making when we’ve never been exposed to it? The only thing we see at the end of the tunnel is college, and we never stop to think about the bigger picture. We are under the illusion that college is life, this is what we are preparing for. We are never to question it and we never have time to stop and think about what is truly relevant to us and, this might sound cheesy, what path we want to take in life.
I am not suggesting some sort of dramatic rebellion (although a revolution seems already to be on its way as more and more colleges are changing their policies and attitudes towards the application process) I am just proposing that we stop and think for ourselves a little bit. A part of me often gets an ominous sensation that the education system is churning out a generation of perfect identical robots. But that’s just me.