The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 40.0°F | Partly Cloudy and Breezy

COLUMN

A Crazy Application Process

Veena Thomas

People who say that kids these days are lazy probably never had kids.

High school students these days have tough academic lives, and it progressively gets worse. The pressure to be accepted into a good college has always been intense, but it has reached an absurd level. I knew people in my class who would be involved in every activity, work part time, and get pretty good grades and no sleep, all in hopes of being accepted to an Ivy League school. For some this worked, and for others it didn’t. What upset me with regard to activities were the serial joiners, the people who really had no interest in all the activities for which they were supposedly a part, but were simply doing it for the sake of their resume. Some people signed up for all these Advanced Placement courses because they “looked good” to colleges, yet they couldn’t do the work at the AP level, and slowed down the classes for everyone else.

But maybe it’s not really the fault of the students; they are driven to this by the college application system, which reduces each applicant to a handful of papers and perhaps an hour of talking to someone. It’s a package deal; those with the best sales pitch win. And so students work incredibly hard to become number one, and still try to become “well-rounded people” by becoming involved in everything, and perhaps work to earn some money and to show responsibility.

It’s hard enough to focus on schoolwork. In high school, I worked hard to earn good grades. Or at least, I thought I worked hard. I’d read over the chapter before a test, perhaps look over the material during study hall, and do well on the tests. It was all relative; as long as I was doing better than everyone else, I was happy. But it’s not like that anymore. Students now study for hours and hours for tests, aiming for perfect scores consistently in order to beat everyone else. When my sister studies for tests, she reads the book, but also looks for relevant information on the Internet to obtain more knowledge on the subject. I never would have dreamed of doing that in high school. It simply wasn’t necessary. I did what I needed to do to be where I wanted to be, and then I went to sleep. High school students don’t sleep any more either. They will certainly be ready for college life.

Summers are hardly carefree days of relaxation anymore. Students buy their textbooks early and read them over the summer, hoping to have an edge over other students. Academic summer programs used to be the residence of a few; now several colleges offer them, recognizing the market and demand for them. Not only do they look good on a resume, they also offer an opportunity to take classes over the summer that can then be passed out of in high school, freeing the student up to take more advanced courses. It’s a wonder that students still look forward to summer vacations.

Students don’t just pursue academics during the summer. It presents an excellent opportunity for volunteering. I had always thought of volunteering as just donating your time to help others in whatever way you could, whether it be volunteering at the library, as I did, or the traditional candy striper in a hospital. But even volunteering is getting fancier these days. I know a guy who spent money and went to Czechoslovakia for several weeks as part of a program to clean up litter there. Personally, I wondered why he couldn’t just stay home and clean up his own town. I guess it doesn’t look as impressive on a resume. (Actually, I talked to him about his trip, and I asked him what he did there. “We picked up Czech trash,” he said. “I don’t care what kind of girls you met Dave, how was the community service?” I replied.)

I’m glad I entered college when I did, too late for it to be easy, but before the pressures present now. I thought I would get stressed out in high school, but it was nothing compared to how students now must be feeling. Perhaps it’s easy for me to say in retrospect, but I believe that in most cases, students end up in a college that is right for them. They learn to adapt and adjust. Even if they had their heart set on another school, most find themselves happy where they are. Just remember to make the most out of the college experience, and to enjoy it. We certainly all worked hard enough to get here. Now we must make it all worthwhile.