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Student Voice: Ivy League Obsession Isn't Healthy

May 2, 2011 by Special To The ...

Student Voice: Ivy League Obsession Isn't Healthy

In our second edition of Student Voice, Cheshire High School student Shreya Bhandari
 looks at an all too common occurrence in schools today: Ivy League obsession. Below, Bhandari explains how classmates can become competitors and each grade, activity, and "resume builder" is scrutinized to ensure that students get into the "dream college."

High school is about that transition from childhood to adulthood; a metamorphosis of sorts. During those four years, students progress from a sheltered lifestyle to one of independence, and a major milestone for teenagers is the college process.
As we grow older, suddenly the world becomes a cold reality and we realize that we are going to have to stick it out on our own and succeed. Now, everyone wants success — to be recognized and to thrive at whatever they do — and that can't happen without ambition. But, when does ambition turn into a necessity? When do we lose sight of why we are doing things and respond only that “it looks good for college”?

As my own college years loom ahead of me, I cannot help but notice that the idea of my “success” is being strictly defined. Recently, it has been about those six horrible letters (G,P, A and S, A, T) all leading to perfect acceptance letter that arrives in the mail from a “name brand” college that will put me on the freeway to prosperity. 

My story is not a unique one. I see, work, and breathe with students who are all feeling the same kind of pressure that I am all too familiar with. But, does that validate the cutthroat competition and anxiety that surrounds all of us who are trying to get into a prestigious school? When does the prospect that we have not succeeded until we are accepted into an Ivy League school become a dangerous obsession that will define us and all of our accomplishments?

If I were to go and ask any student who considers themselves at the top of their class, he/she could probably rattle off all of his/her activities, achievements, and jam-packed weekly schedule, nonchalantly. By my junior year, all of my classes were filled with these types of students, myself included, and this sort of lifestyle becomes completely, and disconcertingly, normal. 

This sort of “Ivy or bust” mentality starts relatively early (or for the smart ones at least) because, in order to be adequately prepared for your application to be at its best, “overachiever” students need a strategy. Courses and extracurriculars are strategically planned so that we can get to that AP level or president title in as few years under four as possible. Summers are packed with extra classes, sports or academic camps, community service, and work experience so that we can prove our “passion” and “interest” in certain areas while simultaneously boosting our resumé. School days are spent in rigorous classes with time-crunched syllabuses in preparation for an AP exam in May, then frantically rushing to sports practice after extracurriculars, in which we have several responsibilities. All of it leaves us walking around like bleary-eyed zombies the next couple of days after pulling two all-nighters in a row (one for a Euro test, the other for a Physics lab). Spreading oneself too thin has become an art. 

Despite this madness (and an unhealthy caffeine addiction so we can get all of our work done), there is a little voice in the back of our heads saying “all of this will be worth it once I get into the school of my dreams,” and that is what keeps us going.

But, why do we have this mentality in the first place?  Could it be society? After all, the Ivy’s are put on a pedestal and US News must have a reason for putting them on the top of the 2011 National Universities Rankings. It is only logical that, if you are accepted to such an elite school, you must be the cream of the crop. No wonder so many of us are looking for that validation that all of our efforts were worth it. Could it be our strict, hard-working immigrant parents who want us to succeed no matter what, since they have sacrificed so much for us to be in America and appreciate the opportunities this country gives us?
Whatever, or whoever it is, intelligent and diligent teenagers are allowing it to take over their lives. Over time, our classmates have become our rivals, and any other activity someone else is doing outside of school becomes everyone's business. PSAT scores, SAT scores, and GPAs are compared down to the hundredths and what every student is wondering is how they can get one step ahead of another. A red flag should go up when we see our peers, or ourselves taking such extreme measures in order to ensure a spot in an Ivy League school. 

Yet, the original purpose of this article was not to berate all of the overachievers who want to go to Ivy schools and are willing to push themselves in order to accomplish what they want. The original purpose was to question the motives behind this. Why is it imperative that we get into Yale or the like? Is it really because we want the academic challenge or have the chance to meet with other students who are motivated and passionate in the same way we are? Or is it because we want to prove to everyone that we are, in fact, that intelligent and that quintessential that we could get into a top-notch school? And because we are accepted, it is a guarantee that we will be successful and change the world? 

In my house, I let it slip that I really had no desire to go into an Ivy League school. This utterance caused an uneasy silence in the kitchen. Looks of bewilderment were passed between my parents and the only coherent response that came out was, “Why?” My reasoning behind it is that I think the merit given Ivy schools has been tainted. I have little doubt that these schools are filled with supercilious, obnoxious students who believe they are the best thing since sliced bread, or students whose parent's generous donations have gotten them in. Why would I want to go to a school like that? I have enough self-esteem to know that I am smart and hardworking and I do not need an Ivy League acceptance to prove that to anyone. 

Of course, I am planning on applying to a few Ivy League schools, and in the small chance that I could get in, I would seriously consider enrolling. But, in all honesty, I’d rather go to a sub-Ivy accredited school with less competition and pursue my endeavors there. The way I see it, you do not need an Ivy school in order to succeed, and if you are really meant to succeed, you can do so at Harvard or UConn. Your education is what you make of it and I think that, with all of the frenzy surrounding getting into an elite school, teenagers have forgotten about what college is really about, ultimately choosing a school based on its name alone. If we could all take a step back and look at a big picture, parents and adolescents may see that hard work and determination will eventually be rewarded, but not always with an acceptance to a prestigious school. Let’s not define ourselves by the schools we get into, but where we go from there.

Thanks to Shreya for sharing her thoughts.

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