NYT opinion article on impact of highly competitive atmospheres

Jackie SizemoreAdvice

I came across this article today, interestingly timed in that May 1st many high school seniors were picking which college they would enroll in. Articles like this leave me feeling incredibly sad. More frequently, I hear the sentiments expressed and quoted in this article from not just college or high school students I work with, but even younger students as well.

This idea of a highly competitive atmosphere has good intentions I think. We would all like to see the students in our lives (whether our own kids or others) succeed. But as this article puts it in the last paragraph, don’t we want these students to get there “in one piece”?

These are statements I find myself saying frequently. Whether it’s to an undergrad student applying to graduate school, a high school junior building a college list, or a much younger student already worrying about a milestone that seems unachievable.

1. Harvard (or fill in your particular competitive school) is not for everyone.
2. Where you go for your higher education should be determined by what and how you want to study something.
3. For every goal that we want to reach there are an infinite number of ways to reach it. Not everyone who goes to Harvard participated on the Debate team, just like not everyone who goes to Carnegie Mellon took a programming class. Which students get offers depends on many, many things, including what major or college (as in Humanities school versus Science school within a University) a student selects on their application.

The number of books and blogs out there that advocate for “this is the secret way into ivy league schools” make me both upset and angry. These are far from the only paths out there, and to assume that any student will thrive in such a specific community as one particular ivy league school is presumptuous to say the least, and does not give justice to the many paths of success any one student could take. Not to mention the many students and young adults who would flourish in a specialized school environment (like cooking school, hair school, dental hygiene school…)

Rather than narrowing the paths of success to a handful, I’d like to think we could all work together to assist or point our students toward resources that will help each student learn about all of the paths to success, happiness, and life balance. What does each student think success looks like? How can we help our students challenge ideas of success or “proper jobs” when we each only know a handful of paths based on our own experiences?