The College Admissions Process: Where Self-Worth Depends on an Acceptance Letter

Tess Lane ’16
Contributing Writer

A few weeks ago, I attended the lecture by New York Times columnist Frank Bruni. His lecture was a synopsis of the book he recently wrote titled “Where You Go is Not Who You’ll Be.”

Bruni described the phenomenon of high school seniors, and their parents falling into the trap of selecting a college based solely on its name and ranking. Bruni said that students have now come to believe that their self-worth is defined by which colleges accept or reject them. It has become a nerve-wracking process in which all that matters is being accepted to the most prestigious school.

As a senior in college, I am happy to say that this process is far behind me. However, the fear and panic that rush through my veins when I remember the harsh rejections I received from Barnard, Brown University and Williams College remain. Luckily, I ended up at a college that is a near-perfect fit for me. Occasionally I catch myself wondering what my life would be like in New York City as a Barnard student.

It is interesting to consider why, as a society, we care so much about labels. I don’t truly believe I would have a better life as a Barnard student instead of a Smithie. However, because of its selectivity and low acceptance rate, Barnard is placed on a pedestal. If accepted, I, also would have fallen victim to this “trap” Bruni describes and would have attended this college for its name and not much else. Taking a step back, I must ask myself; why?

I believe it is because our society categorizes people. Those who attend a highly selective school are considered intelligent, disciplined and hard-working. They become CEOs, Supreme Court Justices and Oscar-award-winning actors. Yet it’s important to remember that those who graduate from state universities or community colleges can also be successful. The only difference is that our society emphasizes an Ivy League education over everything else. We see this repeatedly in the media. For instance, if you were to do a Google search of Natalie Portman, almost every article mentions that she was a psychology major at Harvard. Unsurprisingly, Tina Fey’s education at the University of Virginia is barely mentioned.

Contrary to the beliefs of our society, success should not be measured  in terms of where you got your degree, just as it shouldn’t matter what label is on your jeans. A degree from a selective school does not determine your worth, nor does it predict where you will go in life. What makes someone successful is their discipline, hardwork, passion and ambition. It is easy to lose sight of this, but I encourage you to remember that the purpose of education is not to determine your life plan but to hone critical thinking skills and to help you develop a better understanding of yourself. Fortunately, with the right tools and self-motivation, you can do that just about anywhere.

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