Elite colleges are not worth it


Jiayu Zhan

The standard of getting accepted into elite colleges uncovers the ambiguous state of students’ passions.

Sarah Han, News Editor

Staying up until 3 a.m. Barely getting any sleep or eating enough food for school is perceived as okay because it’s going to be worth it in the end. It may be tough right now, but it’s okay; this is how it’s supposed to be when aiming to go to elite colleges – or is it?

I’m in my junior year and about to start the dreaded process of applying to college. Of course, I’m excited to embark on this whole college process but at the same time, I’m really nervous. The college process (from what I’ve noticed) seems to be pretty arbitrary and the only “goal” for most students is trying to get into the best college there is. This includes the well-known Harvard, Stanford, Yale, Princeton, the rest of the Ivy League, private colleges, etc. These colleges are lavished by students, parents and basically everyone in the entire school for the quality education, reputation and prestige.

But there’s the quote of “there’s something bad in everything good”. So that means these elite colleges have to be bad to a certain extent right? Poor dining halls? Fast-paced classes? Needless to say, flaws are inevitable and perfection is impossible. However, students’ incentives for wanting to go to prestigious schools are leaning towards the side of reputation and image instead of wanting to increase knowledge. 

According to the Harvard Graduate School of Education, a 2013 Gallup poll surveyed 500,000 students in grades five through 12 to find that nearly eight in 10 elementary students were “engaged” with schooling in terms of attentiveness, inquisitiveness and optimism. However, by high school, the number dropped to four in 10. Additionally, a follow-up study in 2015 found that less than a third of 11th-graders felt engaged. 

Thus, if more and more students are wanting to attend prestigious colleges solely for their image, are elite colleges even worth it? 

Now, I’m not saying that reputation or image is every students’ motivation. Seeing that the total number of applicants for all Ivy League schools for the class of 2024 was over 300 thousand students, the majority of the students want to pursue their passions through the highest quality of education there is. But the slight desire of securing a highly-looked-upon reputation seems inevitable, especially today, where academic statistics are becoming the number one priority for millions of students.

With this massive shift, getting accepted into elite colleges becomes a task rather than an opportunity to learn. This hinders the passions of high school students as they get so caught up in solely getting accepted. Passions become requirements – things that everyone should have to prove to colleges that they are high-achieving students.  

First, it’s imperative to address what passion is and how students are pursuing it. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, passion is “a strong liking or desire for or devotion to some activity, object or concept”. But nowadays, it seems to be more of a forced goal instead of something students spontaneously obtain. Where students try everything to find their “passion” so that they can write it on their college applications. Even if they don’t know whether or not they are entirely committed to pursuing that passion, the lack of a choice leaves them with no room for doubt or questioning.

For example, hundreds of students in DVHS tag along to common extracurricular activities such as robotics, speech and debate, music and more, primarily because many other students are doing it and that makes these activities seem like “requirements”.

I think it’s also important to address that there’s a nuance between a “forced” passion and an “uncertain” passion. An “uncertain” passion is when a student doesn’t know what they want to pursue and that’s more than fine. Entering college does not mean that you have to be set on one passion or career. However, a “forced” passion is when a student is obligated to pursue a field of study, without knowing if they actually want to go towards that career. For example, hundreds of students in DVHS tag along to common extracurricular activities such as robotics, speech and debate, music and more, primarily because many other students are doing it and that makes these activities seem like “requirements”. Thus, with the amount of “forced” passions becoming more prevalent among today’s students, more students are unsure of why they are pursuing their passions.

William Deresiewicz, a former professor of English at Yale, mentioned in his essay The American Scholar about the uncertainty of students and how college prestige contributes to the excessively rushed academic environment students currently live in. 

“The system manufactures students who are smart and talented and driven, yes, but also anxious, timid and lost, with little intellectual curiosity and a stunted sense of purpose: trapped in a bubble of privilege, heading meekly in the same direction, great at what they’re doing but with no idea why they’re doing it,” states Deresiewicz. 

As a result, students live in this culture where passion is not true passion but it is still needed to have a higher chance of getting into college. But with this normalization of “forced” passions, what will happen when these passions relay over to college life?

“College is an opportunity to stand outside the world for a few years, between the orthodoxy of your family and the exigencies of career and contemplate things from a distance,” states Deresiewicz.

Needless to say, there’s more freedom in college compared to high school in terms of small things like parents reminding you to go to school or having a strict bedtime. But ironically, college doesn’t seem to have much freedom either as the amount of freedom one has is dependent on their passion. If one has a true passion, they are able to embrace the freedom of joining numerous clubs and attending events, but someone with a forced passion is living in a bubble full of unpredictability and lack of guidance.

Some might state that even though there are many students with “forced” passions, colleges, especially elite colleges, provide quality resources to accommodate those students. According to Forbes, “public college education generates the best relative return on investment, while an Ivy League degree yields the strongest absolute return.” Investments, counseling and student-loan repayment plans are just skimming the surface of what elite colleges provide.

However, providing all these resources and advantages are expected for elite colleges. With the tuition of elite colleges, like those of the Ivy League, averaging over $55 thousand, students attending these institutions should expect high-quality education and proper treatment. But this profound emphasis on furnishing students with only materialistic support shifts the focus from students learning more about what they truly want to pursue to learning just for the sake of it.  

“The job of college is to assist you, or force you, to start on your way through the value of soul-making. Books, ideas, works of art and thought, the pressure of the minds around you that are looking for their own answers in their own ways: all of these are incitements, disruptions and violations. They make you question everything you thought you knew about yourself,” states Deresiewicz. 

With education becoming increasingly distant from students’ passions, it leaves students with forced passions in an ambiguous state of not knowing why they are pursuing it. To alleviate this problem, it’s crucial for students (as much as it sounds cheesy) to engage in “soul searching”. Students should take the time to find their true passion, even if it may be a long process. 

For high school students, try everything you want to try. Don’t live for others and try to satisfy someone else’s desires. Live for what you want to do. 

Even though I may not be a college student, I think it’s evident that there’s still time to pursue a different career. College is a starting point, not an ending point. Thus, trying new things and shaping a career around what one wants to do is more than possible.

In today’s world of education, students barely have time to breathe as they skip from activities to activities. Acceptance into elite colleges becomes the top priority for many students and unfortunately, this deeply-ingrained achievement blinds students from noticing their true passion and inevitable flaws within elite colleges. So are these elite colleges worth it? The answer is this: elite colleges are worth it when you find what YOU want to do. It’s not worth it when you are forced to pursue a passion that you don’t want to follow.