Students, high school is not a checklist! I know with college applications becoming more confusing every year, students are trying their best to hack the system and put themselves on top. They know what has helped others get into their dream schools and so they try to apply that to themselves. This has created an obsessive checklist mentality in many high achieving students.
Volunteering? Check. Good SAT Score? Check. Leadership? Check. This makes the high school one long checklist instead of an experience, and even I fell into this trap. Early on in my sophomore year, I made a list of everything I need to get into college. I listed what my GPA and SAT score should be, what clubs I should join and what my application should look like to the admissions committee. Now, two years later I sit with several college acceptances and rejections, wondering why I wasted my time focusing so much on the future.
I get it, students have the pressure to succeed and they feel like college is their way to do so. This is even more of an issue in Asian communities, where many immigrant families see a “good” college as the key to success. However, the fact of the matter is that a “good” college can only get you part of the way there.
Sure larger, bigger schools have more resources for a student to use and a brand name Ivy League school might look good on a job application, but those things are only skin deep. The school doesn’t make successful students, the students have to drive themselves to success. However, students are being taught that this drive only matters if it gets them into certain schools or jobs. As author Frank Bruni mentions in his novel Where You Go Is Not Who You'll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania“[his] fear is that these kids are always going to be evaluating their self-worth in terms of whether they hit the next rung society has placed in front of them at exactly the time that society has placed it. And that’s dangerous because you’re going to slip and fall in your life.”
This is dangerous because it teaches students to fear failure. However, at that young age, they should fail. They should learn the basics of moving past failure now \ so that they can use those skills later in life. However, with this checklist mentality, failing a mere test can feel like the end of the world because it leads to a bad GPA which can lead to college rejections. With the way the system is structured now, high achieving students are set up for massive amounts of anxiety and an inability to cope with their missteps.
Nevertheless, I still hear parents telling me that this is the way that the real world works and that it’s better to get used to it early on. Their children are doing fine in the system, so why can’t others do the same? Well although some students do find themselves successful in school and college, others find themselves in two other categories. One, they foster an inferiority complex and can feel like whatever they’re doing is not enough compared to their peers. Two, once the process is over and they do succeed, they feel apathetic to their high school experience. Their grades will begin to drop and they might stop participating in their extracurricular activities. Why? Because they did all those things in the first place to checkboxes on their checklist for college. In fact, as a senior in high school, I’ve seen many people already quit their previous responsibilities. Morover, although they should be happy with the fruits of their labor, they feel indifferent towards them.
Still, despite my sharing of this sentiment, I know many students will continue to think of high school as a checklist because there is that fear that if they do something different, then they might fail. Indeed, they can’t change how the admission system works and to get into certain colleges, they will have to jump through certain hoops. However, getting into a good college isn’t the only way to achieve your dreams. To all the high school students out there, I want to remind you that you’re young and this is the time to learn more about yourselves. Build your character and become someone you’re proud of. Don’t let highschool be another stepping stone on the path to success. Instead, enjoy the experience and throw away that checklist. Doing what you want to do instead of what you need to do will only help you become a more secure and successful person in the future.
Bruni, Frank. Where You Go Is Not Who You'll Be: an Antidote to the College Admissions Mania. Grand Central Publishing, 2016.