Is attending a top-tier university really worth putting your family through years of hard-budgeting and struggles?

The college application process is, in itself, incredibly strenuous and draining. It’s hard to imagine that almost all of our self-worth and value is placed in the hands of the university that decides to accept us, says Sayeh Yousufi before turning down the offer from UC Berkeley.

College – the culmination of our high school and academic careers. A decade of our lives spent slaving over textbooks and papers, trying to live up to an unattainable standard of perfection that does nothing but belittle our confidence and ruin our dreams. It may sound morbid, but not all of the high school experience has been negative. However, once the initial rush and euphoria of entering high school passes and it becomes clear that the next four years will entail a roller-coaster of emotions and struggles, the stresses and pressures of high school begin to creep in.

The college application process is, in itself, incredibly strenuous and draining. How else can we describe a process that requires someone to explain their entire life story, accomplishments, aspirations and dreams in a mere 300 words or less? A compilation of one’s entire career so far, while attempting to give the admissions officers an idea of the ‘real’ you, all while staying within the word limit, is a challenge beyond belief.

College application and SAT score

The SAT and all other standardized tests do nothing but belittle a human being to a few numbers on a scale. Without even taking into consideration the various underlying factors that contribute to one’s SAT score, the test itself clearly only appeals to a certain caliber of student.

On several an occasion during the college application process I found myself asking how the admissions officer whether or not I had had enough money to go to SAT prep courses, or if they knew that I lived so far away from the testing location that my parents would have to take an entire day off of work in order to drive me. I simply grasped onto a blind faith that the application process was not all that unfair, and that all these factors would somehow be taken into consideration.

Looking beyond the standardized tests and marks, I knew the selling point of my application would have to be my essays. Before I even started I began to wonder how other applicants, for whom English was not their first language, and people who did not have particularly strong writing skills, would be able to communicate themselves through their essays.

I considered myself to be relatively adept when it came to writing, so I had some confidence that this aspect of my application would be most successful. When I wrote my first application, I left it to the last minute (as per usual), but I had so little faith in my acceptance to the school that I simply rushed through the application, purely for the sake of finishing it on time.

My essays, although not my best work, were still very reflective pieces, and I hoped would set me apart from other applicants. That university was UC Berkeley, and I found out only a few days ago that I had been accepted. I was completely taken aback and even somewhat disappointed because I knew right away that I wouldn’t be able to attend, because I’d already been accepted to a program far more fitting for myself that was also far more affordable.

I then had to make the incredibly hard decision (as many others have), of choosing between prestige and affordability. Even then, I was still incredibly proud and happy of having been accepted, which made me question how much validation these college acceptances were giving me, and why I had been giving them so much power to dictate my thoughts and emotions in the first place.

College application as a validation of our self-worth

It’s hard to imagine that almost all of our self-worth and value is placed in the hands of the university or universities that decide to accept us. Whether or not one is a hard-working individual, had to overcome extraneous circumstances, is irrelevant when it all comes down to the final decision.

No one cares whether the reason your SAT score was so low was because you dedicated more time to doing the things you love. It all really comes down to which schools decide to look at the real you, past the superficial marks and awards, and down to the substantive essence of your being, the reason why you dedicate so much time to certain activities, your dreams and aspirations, and most importantly, your potential.

Education should not be awarded based on who came from a more wealthy and affluent background, or who got perfect scores on every single test, but rather who showed perseverance and a dedication to their education and the things they valued. In my personal opinion, a student who goes out of their way to exemplify their passion for music is equally amazing and talented as one who is a genius in mathematics.

At the same time, it’s important to reward well-roundedness, in students who manage to maintain good grades while still participating wholeheartedly in activities they are passionate in. Most often, it is these students, who maintain a balance in their lives, who gain admission to the most prestigious of universities. However, the pressure to maintain this balance between extracurriculars, marks, and dedication to one’s passion, all the whilst remaining social with one’s friends and family, is probably the leading factor of stress for youth nowadays.

Mental health being one of the biggest, and least talked about, problems of our time, its causes need to be addressed right away. But addressing the sources of mental health means restructuring our entire society and means of processing education and applications, which is a change many of our current leaders are not all too willing to address. When it comes to campaign platforms and appealing to the ‘youth’ vote, politicians seem to care greatly about the state of mental health of our youth, and the stresses of college, both in the application process and in paying the hefty tuition fees for the rest of their lives. However, no elected politician has yet made it part of their immediate agenda to address the problems surrounding education.

Is attending a top-tier university really worth putting your family through years of hard-budgeting and struggles?

Once the actual application process has ended, and comes the day of decisions, we’re all sitting on the edge of our chairs, smiling and laughing along, when in reality there is a nervousness growing in the pits of our stomachs, knowing that the decisions that will dictate the next few years of our lives will be out in a few hours. Even then, once the decisions arrive, there’s more stress and problems to follow. Either we’ll be devastated to hear of rejection from our top university, or will be ecstatic and have no big decision to make. Some of us are burdened with making huge decisions, having to pick between prestige and affordability. Our parents continue to say that they will find a way to pay for university, and that we shouldn’t worry, but is attending a top-tier university really worth putting your family through years of hard-budgeting and struggles?

It doesn’t matter which university you end up going to

All this comes atop of trying to decide which programs to pursue in university, and whether to pursue education in fields we are passionate in, or fields we are sure will guarantee a stable job in the future. It may appear at this point that the college application process brings nothing but pain and stress, but the pride and sense of accomplishment that accompanies an acceptance to a good college is beyond words.

Regardless of whether the university is a top-tier or an Ivy League, or a state-school, knowing that we will be receiving education from some of the world’s most advanced and resourceful institutions is truly something to be proud of, regardless of whether or not we get into an Ivy.

My mother, upon hearing me complain about not getting into my preferred residential college said something that I thought was very powerful, “it doesn’t matter which university you end up going to. The fact that you’ll be going to university at all, especially in North America, is an opportunity you should be both proud and excited about.”

“What do you think about the college application process? Is it worth the trouble and stress? Let us hear your thoughts!”

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