The admissions process to highly selective colleges can be stressful. It can cause fights between parents and children. It can lead to drops in self-esteem. It can be filled with ups and downs, unanticipated twists and turns. A piece published today up on “Forbes” by Brennan Barnard entitled “College Admission Has The Cultural Capital To Drive Suicide Prevention” examines how the college admissions process can be quite a stressful burden for maturing high school students to navigate. Regrettably, it’s even a process that can lead students to seek to take their own lives.
The Stress of College Admissions
As Barnard writes, “A potentially powerful rite of passage, college admission has the cultural capital with which to shift the tides of isolation, anxiety and disconnection that can lead to suicidal thoughts and actions. Few rituals in American society carry more pressure or the threat of shattered self-esteem. Few tokens carry more worth than acceptance to a ‘name’ college or university—in many communities, college acceptances are the most important measure of success. In Spiderman, Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben taught us that ‘with great power comes great responsibility.’ College admission is poised to influence individual well-being and connection by nature of the values reinforced and the requirements that are prioritized.”
He continues, “In many high schools, students reluctantly take calculus or the fourth year of a foreign language because that is what colleges dictate as most competitive. Other young people cram already full schedules with multiple AP or high-level courses because these are what ‘count.’ Meanwhile, when reviewing applications most college admission officers discount health and wellness courses and omit them in grade point average calculations. Colleges should send the message that studying this material is as critical as learning equations or how to conjugate a verb—that in fact ‘soft’ survival skills matter.”
Our Nation’s Most Highly Selective Schools Aren’t Right for Everyone
While it makes us incredibly sad that the college admissions process can lead students to experience depression or even — in extreme examples — think suicidal thoughts, we don’t agree with all of Barnard’s recommendations to make the college admissions process less stressful for all. You see, most students shouldn’t be applying to highly selective colleges. Achieving admission to our nation’s most elite schools should be the goal of top students. These students are the exceptions, not the rule. Not every student should be taking calculus. Certainly not every student should be going above and beyond calculus. But just because some students aren’t cut out for these courses doesn’t mean highly selective colleges shouldn’t seek out students who are cut out for these courses, who can excel in these courses.
Whether students learn it through the college admissions process or later on in life, everyone is not a winner. Everyone is not the very best at a given thing. And while parents, students, teachers, school counselors, private college counselors, and everyone in between can all do a better job of ensuring that students avoid falling into a depression on account of the college admissions process, the notion of leveling the field for everyone so as to decrease stress for all is a notion suited for the residents of the hippie colonies of Topanga Canyon, California — but not all of America.