Editorial: Combating Lynbrook’s competitive college culture

As college acceptance rates plummet, with Stanford’s rate at a meager 4.2 percent in 2018 and Cornell’s acceptance rate dropping 17 percent between 2007 and 2018, the scramble for a spot at a renowned higher education institution has grown increasingly intense. The competition to attend a distinguished university has led families to sacrifice financial stability and students to sacrifice their wellbeing in the name of attending prestigious colleges. The toxic nature of this hyper-competitive culture must be changed to preserve student health and properly value individual achievements.

As news surfaced on March 12 about a college admissions scandal in which wealthy parents bribed their children’s way into select colleges, the detrimental college admissions culture has become even more of a talking point. Outrage spread as people learned of the unfair advantages that these students’ parents leveraged to gain their children places at top-tier academic institutions.

“[The scandal] is a symptom of the fear that’s involved in the college decision process,” said College and Career adviser Barb Takahashi. “It’s a symptom of the focus on getting into a highly selective college as opposed to one that fits the student well. I think it’s really sad that some parents don’t trust their children to make the best of their lives wherever they’re meant to be.”

This same culture that resulted in the college admissions scandal is present at Lynbrook; thus, it is integral that everyone at Lynbrook recognize the shared responsibility to foster a supportive environment in which self-exploration can exist without fear of harsh criticism. Students’ high school years are a time for self-discovery, but external judgements hinder the chance to encounter revelations about one’s strengths and interests since shame may overcome a student’s desire to explore different areas of expertise. Speculation on how someone was accepted to a college is unnecessary, and statements of whether one deserves to attend a certain college are degrading. Partaking in such activities not only demeans students who are the targets of the gossip, but clearly reflects the negative culture that accompanies college admissions.

This is not to say that students must refrain from sharing their achievements for fear of making others feel inferior; the ideal high school environment is one in which students are comfortable sharing their successes. Students should be able to share college results if they so choose, but must also be mindful of others’ feelings; gloating and boasting about one’s own achievements does not breed kindness, but rather sparks tension and jealousy in an already competitive high school environment.

“I think that we have to develop a culture of celebration and congratulations rather than judgment,” Takahashi said. “I would love if people would praise their peers for any accomplishment, any acceptance and any decision they make.”

While college is often portrayed as an integral step on the path to future success, with the admittance to an elite college often representing the epitome of the high school success story, it is important for everyone to reconsider the value placed upon top-tier colleges such as Harvard University. Despite the exceptional education provided at these institutions and the widespread recognition of their excellence, they are not the only establishments where high-quality education can be attained.

“When I was in high school, I thought colleges such as San Jose State University and De Anza were not ‘good’ colleges since they are ‘local,’” said Anna Chi, a Lynbrook Class of 2017 alumnus and current student at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. “However, several of my friends who go to these colleges actually enjoy it a lot. They are meeting new people and learning more things, and all of them really enjoy college life.”

The decision to apply to or attend a certain college should always be treated with respect. The environment, culture and location of a college are also deciding factors in one’s choice to attend. Thus, a student’s commitment to one college may not be related to the prestige of the college, but instead may be about the prioritization of his or her wellbeing and personal values.

“People are so focused on getting into the top 20 schools,” said senior Ishika Kamchetty. “But that’s not how it should be; you should be going to college because you want to go to that college, not because you want to be ‘successful.’”

Individuals should not be subject to gossip and judgement for their academic choices. The college one attends or the GPA one earns is not representative of a student’s worth; students are more than their academic achievements, and the culture surrounding college admissions and acceptances must change to reflect this. Despite the competition surrounding the college admissions process, students have the choice to combat this culture, even in minor ways. It is everyone’s responsibility to create an environment where student success is not tied to a college acceptance letter, and one’s academic choices can be respected without question.

*the Epic staff voted 36–0 in favor of this stance