The College Process Should Not Be About Shame

The college process is without a doubt the most stressful time of any college bound high schooler’s life. There’s a rush to look the best on paper: the most extracurriculars, the highest test scores, the best GPA. With this dehumanizing stress comes a college-choice shaming culture that perpetuates discrimination. This culture is especially pervasive in my school district, where many prep schools are competing for the best ratings and the most alumni at top ranked universities. As a college freshman, I can look back on these put downs of my school choices and understand that most of the remarks were not deliberately hurtful, and that they do not ultimately impact how much I am enjoying my college experience and benefiting from my education. However, I have heard from many of my high school friends that this judgmental culture makes them feel shamed for their choice of university and embarrassed to share where they are applying. Here are some ways that high school students can work towards a more positive, uplifting environment during the stressful college process:

1. Understand that more factors go into college choice than simply just preference and ability to get in.

People do not choose a university based only on whether they like it and can be admitted, but also have to consider cost, location, and programs within the school. For example, a common joke after a bad grade in the area is “I won’t get into any colleges; I’ll have to go to the local community college.” This comment is hurtful because it implies that only people who are too academically unfit to get into anywhere else go to community college. This assumption is incorrect and elitist, as it does not take into account that some people, no matter how smart they are, could choose this school because they like it, because it’s affordable (MCCC has a program that helps pay for their students’ Ivy League tuition after one semester of attendance), or because it’s convenient. For example, the student could have obligations at home or require more independence to work, and would choose a school to accommodate his or her schedule. To counteract this college choice shaming environment, bear in mind that not everyone’s reasons for choosing schools are the same as yours.

2. Avoid assuming or vocalizing that someone will have advantage in getting accepted to a school based on their race, gender, or religion.

Often these types of put downs or micro-aggressions occur inadvertently, when someone is trying to be encouraging. For example, “Don’t worry, you have a better chance of getting in because you can improve diversity!” This comment is unfair and essentially makes it seem as though the person has not truly earned their admission to the university. These statements can be sexist, racist, and ultimately just dismissive of all the hard work these students put in. The college process is a difficult time for everyone, so instead of perpetuating a judgmental culture, bond over the annoyingness of the common app.

3. Avoid ranking schools or mentioning common stereotypes.

One particular comment overheard in an area school is “I get insulted whenever people ask me if I’m applying anywhere but an Ivy.” This comment not only reinforces the ignorance of people’s reasons for choosing where they apply, but also assumes that the national rank or prestige of a college means it is better then every college that is perceived to be below it. This assumption is unfair and perpetuates an unfair environment. University rankings and high acceptance rates do not make one school better than any other, nor does it place any applicant over another. Additionally, because there are so many universities, people tend to accept the stereotypes of schools they don’t recognize too well. For example, as my friend decided to ED to Yale, she resented people’s assuming she was snobby, and as my other friend applied to the University of Colorado, he was frustrated that people assumed he was a stoner. This atmosphere of judging people for their college choices is also reinforced when people mention their backup schools. Although there is nothing wrong with talking about where you apply, one can inadvertently put someone else down by sharing that their “easy” school is someone else’s reach school. If you discuss your college list, don’t specify which schools are easier or harder for you to get into; it might make someone feel uncomfortable.

Hopefully these tips will lead to an environment that reduces stress and allows everyone to feel more comfortable during the college application process. Best of luck to all applicants!

– Written by Fayette Plambeck (redefy mentor)