The Dangers and Benefits of Academic Competition – The Harvard-Westlake Chronicle
Faculty and students speak out on the college candidacy competition amid the recent unprecedented admission season.
Casey Weisman ’22 felt the fluorescent blue glow from his laptop screen on his face as he logged into his fifth virtual college panel in mid-April. He immediately began to worry about the upcoming college admissions season as he saw dozens of his peers on the Zoom call with him.
“During the pandemic, I feel like it was even more difficult for people to get into colleges,” Weisman said. “And, as Harvard-Westlake students always do, they compete with their peers to outdo themselves. Since my sophomore year, I have become much more aware and nervous about the admissions process and felt compelled to do better than my peers. We already attend one of the best schools in the country and because of that we feel the need to prove ourselves by competing for the “ultimate” applications.
A report published in the Washington Post in April 2021 found that applications for admission to Ivy League universities increased an average of 33.4% during the COVID-19 pandemic, while actual acceptance rates have fell an average of 1.98% among all Ivies.
Upper School Dean Nia Kilgore said this drop in acceptances made students feel even more competitive during the university application period, where deans noticed the most pressure to perform exceptionally well. Deans hope to help students move from worry to optimism, Kilgore said.
“College admissions just get more difficult over time,” Kilgore said. “The pandemic has created an influx of applications with fewer acceptances than ever, which [alarms students]. As deans, we need to help students believe in themselves and not feel defined by the colleges into which they are accepted. When children feel good about their abilities, they are less likely to view competition as a bad thing. Adjusting their mindset can lead to more productive and happier students.
Science professor and diversity, equity and inclusion coordinator Nate Cardin said he observed that overworked students are a by-product of academic competition and that the desire to create a Impressive application to college is a burden on the students.
“The environment of overworked and exhausted students often makes school days less happy,” Cardin said. “Students are not able to delve deeper into the ideas we discuss in Zoom classes. Instead, it feels like a lot of them scramble to keep up, sacrificing sleep, hobbies, and friendships to do so. Every student feels compelled to perform due to the looming certainty of university applications, [creating] a hard space formed by students [who overload on extracurriculars]. “
Naomi Attal ’21 has now said that she has gone through the college application process and been accepted to New York University, she believes the competitive atmosphere she found herself in was unnecessary.
“I’m really happy with the university I’m going to, but I think I still would have done well and been less stressed if I hadn’t competed against my peers during the admissions season,” Attal said. . “I love my classmates, but it’s a shame that we are treating our last year like high school kids who see themselves as targets or people who could steal our places in our dream schools. There is a pressure to outdo yourself in terms of the number of extracurricular activities you have, which have been even harder to do virtually, and people overdo themselves until it takes its toll on their mental health. “
Senior school dean Jen Cardillo said the biggest inconvenience her graduating students faced during the pandemic was not being able to get to the colleges they wanted to visit.
“Very few of my elders have had the opportunity to visit colleges,” Cardillo said. “Those who were able to visit the colleges where they are now enrolled may have visited before the pandemic, when they were much younger, or have been on unofficial tours more recently. It was definitely a downside not having these opportunities to see a college campus in person, but I’m really impressed with my seniors for their sense of adventure and dedication as many of them are planning to relocate this summer. on the campuses they will be visiting for the first time. “
Will Ruden-Sella ’21 said he felt disadvantaged by his inability to visit colleges during this admission cycle due to security concerns related to COVID-19.
“I had planned to do college tours during spring break last year,” Ruden-Sella said. “I feel like if I had taken a college tour and seen the campuses of a bunch of schools, I would have had a sense of where I wanted to apply more, which I didn’t not really understood. Overall, [COVID-19] made it really hard to know each college and what is unique about each college.
Kilgore said students approached their deans feeling disheartened, especially during this year’s admissions process.
“Now more than ever, students have expressed that they feel ‘less’ than their seemingly smarter peers,” Kilgore said. “Spending a year in virtual school kept them from seeing their peers, and it seems the lack of face-to-face relationships added to their stress about college. I engage in conversations about situations that lead [stress]- are these small group discussions when you don’t know the answers or the perception of who is entering certain colleges and who is not one of the factors that make you feel unworthy? I think all deans have these conversations with some of their students, and the problem is not resolved after just one conversation.
A New York Times study conducted by Michael Hurwitz in 2011 found that an unnamed college was 15 times more likely to accept inherited students than students without family alumni.
Hope Shinderman ’21 has also witnessed the advantages people have in the college process, which increases the pressure on those who do not have such advantages.
“I’ve also noticed that wealthier students whose parents know more about academia or have attended well-known universities tend to be favored by admissions officials and feel they shouldn’t be talking to other factors that can help them, ”Shinderman said. . “These often discourage those who lack connections and can’t make them during a global pandemic, so I feel like the whole situation can be pretty unfair. “
The struggle to maintain “perfect” grades follows its peers throughout their day-to-day school lives, and only the top few students emerge from the competition emotionally unscathed, Weisman said.
“I feel like the competition doesn’t benefit a lot of people except those who manage to excel with the help of online tutors or family connections,” Weisman said. “Otherwise everyone is fighting for themselves in this ongoing battle against each other which I think is dangerous for us, especially in this unpredictable last year. Everyone has a “survival of the fittest” mentality and has no choice but to try to come out on top. “