Today’s College Applicant

A great superhero once said “with great power comes great responsibility.” Maybe what he meant to say was “potential.” The 90’s are officially a past generation, and some might say the teenagers growing up in today’s world are doing it too fast. Whenever I talk to parents of my friends or even my own, they hint at crazy parties and pranks that broke too many laws to count on both hands. “Innocent fun” they called it, back in their glory days. Today, the stakes are much, much higher for teenagers. The job market is crowded and cut-throat as globalization sends foreign students to the already-crowded top echelon of American universities. The piece of the pie for homegrown American teenagers is slimming down every year, and parents are bearing down on their young prodigies to produce above average grades and test scores while maintaining a busy extra-curricular schedule.

Although your parents would never admit it, statistics tell us that most of them did in fact do just “average,” and it turns out they were able to make it in the world. Average is no longer good enough. A rising senior aspiring to receive an acceptance letter from a top university today has already compiled a gilded resume that would astound the alumni of their respective universities. Perhaps entering senior year with a 3.8 gpa and a 29 on the ACT, a typical student applying to the top universities might spend his weekdays after school at a sports practice, immediately preceded by multiple hours of homework. His or her weekend could include volunteering at a homeless shelter or an internship with a radio station. Summer, you say? For high school teens today, summer is a time to polish your college resume. Many students travel abroad to participate in immersion programs or build houses for low income neighborhoods. Although you won’t hear this from your parents until after you get that big acceptance letter, they didn’t jump through any of these “hoops” when they were applying for college. Their summers were most likely “care free,” a phrase you’re likely unfamiliar with.”

Not every high school student today is feeling the rush of pressure to succeed beyond typical expectations, but those that are comprise the esteemed colleges and universities applicant pools. Heading into the second semester of senior year, the pressure is off and parents relax the rules a little bit while admissions officers scrutinize everything you have accomplished from birth to age 17. You get a few acceptance letters, a few rejections, and find the one that fits just right. Now here is where the culture of parental pressure rears its ugly head. Many students refuse to take a deep breath and relax for the summer,. They choose, instead, to take college preparatory classes or even take college courses to transfer credit to their admitted college. Parents continue to pressure their kids to succeed universally once they leave the proverbial “nest.” Most college freshman take on much too difficult class schedules combined with multiple extra-curricular activities to stay far, far away from any hint of “down time.” For the students that can’t slow down and take a breather at some point during their first few months at college, the meltdown is almost assured. At Kenyon College, a small, private liberal arts college in Gambier, Ohio, a few of my classmates threw in the towel this year. Their stories were all very similar. They had been pressured their entire lives to get good grades, participate in extra-curricular activities, build a resume for college applications, and prepare themselves for the cut-throat job market ahead. As they left their homes and said goodbye to the rules of their parents, they began to stress more and more about whether or not they were succeeding and making their parents happy. Finally, they break down from stress and give up in school, usually returning home, sometimes transferring, and sometimes taking a “break.”

What has changed in our society to account for this attitude in students and parents alike? That, my friends, is up to another super-hero to decide at a later date. Until then, my best advice to parents is to let their kids succeed and fail on their own. Regardless of the pressure you place upon them, once they leave, only their own desire will keep them aspiring to more.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

− 1 = five