A 17 Year-Old’s Perspective on the College Process

By: Zane Khader

My name is Zane Khader, and I find it hard to sleep at night.

Is it because of some test, essay, or presentation happening soon? No, although that is usually the cause for anxiety. The reason revolves around the same line of thought that has humbled me in my best moments, motivated me in my worst moments, and dominated my mind ever since the eighth grade: getting into college. Specifically, getting into my first-choice college.

While information on the college admissions process on the internet is arguably oversaturated, the impact of college admissions-related anxiety on students is grossly understated. Getting into college, especially the top-tier colleges, is harder than ever; the college admissions scandal, earlier this year, only illustrates that point. We are, also, at a point where quantitative data reigns supreme. School districts tend to measure student success in terms of AP and SAT scores instead of in student and teacher satisfaction with regards to the material being taught. As a result of this, many students feel forced to take as many AP tests as possible to remain competitive, even if they aren’t interested in them. I, for one, will have taken 13 AP tests by the end of my senior year, and I can confirm that a fair share of them were not taken out of genuine interest. Is the whole situation a mess? Yes. Will it destroy humanity? Absolutely not. But, it gives context to the issue of the college process.

By looking at my inability to sleep comfortably, we can see one potential impact of the college process on students. But, what are some other impacts? Well, a rumor-based culture seems to have dominated my grade this year. Phrases like “so-and-so is applying here,” “I can’t believe so-and-so got recruited to that school! It’s so unfair,” and “so-and-so’s GPA is only a 4.7. There’s no way they will get into the school I’m applying to” are all too familiar. It has transformed senior year, a year widely regarded as being “the best year,” into a cutthroat competition to see who can get into the best college, and, frankly, it’s sickening to watch. But, super-competitive students pitting themselves against each other still isn’t the biggest issue that I’ve noticed; those students will, wherever they end up going (even if it’s not their first-choice college), be successful because they have the motivated mindset that has made them so competitive in the first place.

The bigger problem is students who don’t have the proper motivation. These are the students who did not think about college early enough and are promptly slammed into senior year depressed and unmotivated. Students like this might seem like an unrepresentative minority to parents and teachers, but, in truth, they are more prominent than perceived to be. Many of these students lack direction, focus, and the desire to see the world beyond high school. Some students do think of their goals beyond high school, but then, after coming to the tough realization that the road to success is a tough and often boring path, shift their expectations downward and settle for a less than ideal conclusion to their high school experience. This reduction in confidence (from what I have noticed) usually results in some type of substance, alcohol, or vape (which is at an all-time high in Greenwich schools) abuse. Some students simply lack goals entirely.

So, what can you do? I recently spoke at a Board of Education meeting on how parents should be taking a more active role in helping their children develop goals and dreams by their freshman year of high school, and I stand by that approach. It’s important to realize that this doesn’t mean forcing them to have their whole life figured out or to know exactly where and what they want to study after high school. Instead, this means that parents should have an open discussion about what sorts of careers a child might be interested in (keywords: “open” and “might”) by finding opportunities to expose their child to the wide variety of professions that the world has to offer. The point is that if a child is exposed to a goal that they can anchor themselves to so as to help them get through the tougher parts of high school, then they will feel much more inclined to work hard and motivate themselves, and this will mitigate the chances of being disappointed on college decision day. In my experience, a self-motivated high school student will usually succeed where a (primarily) parent-driven high school student will fail. Embolden your children by finding what makes them tick, let them establish goals that will capitalize on that dream, and be open to allowing their dream to shift and mature.

Maybe, they’ll even sleep comfortably at night, too.