The Pressures of College: An Opinion

By Caitlin R. ’20

It seems since entering high school, the word “college” is constantly being thrown around. Whether it be complaining about our parents’ expectations for us to go to Ivy Leagues, our own pressures to go to schools such as Harvard and Stanford, or the occasional joke about attending CSM due to our own “failures.” (Which really does need to stop, considering CSM is a great local college and making fun of it just makes us look entitled).

Even since freshman year, I’ve been apart of and heard conversations about how many extracurriculars we should do for college, or what clubs we need to lead for college, or even just what community service we need to do, all for college. Even though it is so many years away, as a freshman we felt that everything we did was for the ultimate end goal of college. Why is this true?

Certainly, not every school in the area has this exceeding amount of pressure on its students. Yet being a student in an academically rigorous private school in Silicon Valley, one of the most competitive areas in the country, definitely does contribute to this sense of pressure and anxiety surrounding the topic of college.

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In addition to this constant stress, there is a certain stigma surrounding attending non-prestigious universities. I have heard mentions of people joking about attending schools such as UCLA and UC Berkeley in the past few years, which is ridiculous considering they are some of the top public universities in the country. I also feel pressure, as I know others do, to strive to go to top universities only. For me personally, my parents have told me on numerous occasions that I do not need to go to an Ivy League, but I still find myself succumbing to the surrounding attitude that Ivy schools should be the ultimate goal, even if they are out of someone’s academic reach: “well, if I get in by any chance, then of course I will go.” I believe that this mindset is toxic, because it implies that, even if an Ivy League or top school is not the right fit for someone, they should still automatically go if they are accepted. Everyone has schools that are right for them, and it would quite frankly be not-so-smart to go a school just for the name and prestige. If somebody finds a school that they love, they should ignore the acceptance rate, ranking, and all of the numbers. For example, over the summer I toured University of Washington in Seattle. I loved the school, and I know many of my peers feel the same. But because of the near 50% acceptance rate, it is seen as just a safety school, or backup school for other “better” schools. I honestly believe that if I attended University of Washington, I would be perfectly happy, and I think that Crystal students, as well as high school students in general, should try to remember that we can make the most out of any school we go to. There are thousands of schools in The United States alone, and it is ridiculous to believe that are only ten universities where students can truly succeed.

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It is also crazy to me how much college is talked about now that I am junior. I went to an extended family gathering a couple weeks ago, and I was astounded that in the span of a couple months since our last full-family party, the conversation topics have switched from school and sports to college. And college. And college… It seemed that every single person I spoke to wanted to know where I was thinking of going to college, whether I wanted to be on the east coast or west coast, what I wanted to major in, and of course offer their own opinions and college experiences.

I am not at all blaming my family for these conversations, because college is an interesting and exciting thing to talk about—yet it does tend to become overwhelming.

At the end of the party I approached my now-freshman-in-college cousin and apologized for all of the times I asked him about college last year when he was a senior, and he gave me some wise advice: “Pick a story and stick to it. It makes it much easier.”

I may do just this for my next family gathering, where I know for the next two years there will inevitable college questions. If you are the receiver of these questions, as I know most of us will be for the next years, try to remember that the asker is just trying to start a conversation. If you are the question-asker, maybe try talking about something non-college related, as us students have definitely talked about college enough. 🙂

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Overall, in order to combat these pressures, there are many things that we as students can do. One thing is to take a step book and gain some perspective. If we attend a lesser known university, our lives will not be over, and we will still get our degrees, and jobs, and be happy. Of course, we should continue to work hard in high school as Crystal students tend to do, but also remember to leave time to do things you enjoy. High school is not just a time to prepare for college, but a time to enjoy our last bits of childhood before the full transition into adulthood. Our teenage years are supposed to be a time to hang out with friends, try new things, and explore; do not let these years go to waste by only thinking of a future goal.

I actually saw a quote yesterday that went something like this: people spend high school thinking it is practice for “real life” in college, then they spend college thinking it is practice for “real life” in the workforce, and then they think their first job is practice for “real life” yet to come. Before they know it, life is almost over, and they realize they have not truly lived.

This quote is definitely a bit over-dramatic, but you get the point. College is not everything – remember to enjoy your life.

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