Do Students Feel Too Much Pressure to Go to Certain Colleges?
As the school year comes to an end, many seniors are preparing to take their next big step into adulthood: college. The decision of where to attend college has been the culmination of years of stress, pressure, and anxiety relating to their careers and futures. While many students are thrilled by the prospect of deciding their future, the pressure to attend prestigious colleges — and attend college at all — continues to be an overwhelming burden for many seniors.
As a self-described “college preparatory school,” the general expectation is that Walls graduates will attend college, ideally a prestigious one. With the website boasting a 100 percent graduation and college acceptance rate, as well as the school’s emphasis on “college readiness,” much of the pressure falls on students to maintain the school’s reputation.
“The moment I entered this building as a freshman, everything was adding up for me to go to a good college,” said Charlotte Harkrader (‘23), “It’s still a lot of pressure from the get-go.”
Jordyn Hurry (‘23) shared a similar perspective, citing the intensity of Walls classwork and the effort that students put into doing well as reasons why many students feel pressure to attend good colleges.
“A lot of people have a mindset of ‘why’d you work so hard in high school if you’re not gonna go to a fancy college?’” she said. “It makes it feel like no matter how much you try, it’s not even worth it.”
Though the Walls environment generates much external pressure, students are also combating their internal expectations for themselves. “A lot of students have rewarded themselves . . . by comparing themselves to others,” said Maddie Salunga (‘23). “That leads to a lot of toxic habits that we see at Walls, like comparing SAT scores, or posting all your colleges on your [Instagram] story so you can fill that need for appreciation.”
Social media has been yet another factor impacting students’ self-esteem in terms of college decisions. An unofficial Instagram page where seniors post their college decisions, @ sww2023decisions, has over 460 followers and over 100 posts. Salunga, who runs the page, fears that the influence of social media has begun to harm the self-esteem of many Walls seniors. “People felt inadequate because their schools aren’t as prestigious,” she said. “A lot of people have been like, ‘I don’t want to submit my decision [to the account]” after seeing other students’ schools on the page. Students compare themselves to others who got into more prestigious schools, a comparison which the Instagram page facilitates by putting college decisions side by side.
There is contrasting evidence about the necessity, or lack thereof, of attending the most prestigious colleges. Some analyses, such as one by Lindsay Gellman of the Wall Street Journal, suggest that attending an elite school for an undergraduate degree leads to significantly more income once a student enters the job market. On average, the difference between the salary of a graduate school attendee who went to an elite college versus their lower-tier college counterpart is nearly $34,000. The graduation rates of selective colleges are also higher than less prestigious ones, further dividing their reputations. And for students who desire a lucrative career requiring connections in elite circles, attending an elite college could be incredibly advantageous.
For other students, however, the benefits are limited. For careers that don’t involve as much social climbing, such as one in education or marketing, places of work tend to disregard where a job candidate acquired their undergraduate degree.
Also, although Ivy League graduates tend to be successful, students who seek out prestigious schools would likely find success regardless of the undergraduate institution they attended. The most prestigious schools generally come with a hefty price tag that can plunge students into piles of debt. While there can be benefits to attending prestigious colleges, they mostly depend on the student’s individual situation.
Overall, many seniors agree that the pressure to attend prestigious schools, regardless of its source, is damaging to Walls students. Hurry, who recently got off the waitlist for an Ivy League school, said that reactions to her acceptance are yet another concern.
“I don’t want to seem like I’m bragging about it, or I’m somewhat better because I know that’s not the case,” she said. “And if I don’t tell them, they’re gonna be like ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’”
Hurry also lamented the strong culture of comparison at Walls. “We’re all in the same little bubble,” she said. “The people who have 50 extracurriculars, 50 APs, they’re the ones who get noticed even though everybody else has the same amount of effort that they put into the work.
Some seniors have concluded that where they go for undergraduate study is fairly unimportant. Some see the benefit of attending an undergraduate-only college. For example, Salunga believes that Ivy League schools are “overrated” because they focus on graduate students. Others are planning to attend prestigious institutions this fall, and are looking forward to taking full advantage of that opportunity.
Regardless, Salunga said that “no one is going to a bad school, and Walls has made us all very strong applicants.”