Cheating on the SAT. Faking extracurriculars. Forging letters of recommendation. Padding resumes. Anything to get into your dream school. Anything to reach higher than the people around you.
As I sit here writing this, I am mad. Mad at the College Board, mad at the prep books piled high on the desk in front of me, mad at the growing stack of college mail scattered around me. While it all seems to say, “We want you” in every college’s unique way, they may or may not be interested in my oh-so-exceptional life. But most of all, I am mad that all of this not only hangs over me like a cloud at home, but it also hangs over the entire student body in their homes. It hangs over the entire state in schools like ours, it hangs over the nation in schools like ours.
The College Board is pitting kids against kids, parents against parents, and obviously, test preparatory programs against other prep programs. But the true purpose of the college process is no longer to pursue higher education—at least it does not seem like it anymore. The SAT does not teach you anything about living life, and neither does the ACT. The real reason behind all of the test prep courses, the SAT study books, and the tutors promising to help you improve your score is that nervous students provide the perfect niche to make a profit, and this is making me crazy.
So to address the all-powerful and all-knowing College Board, on behalf of students like me all around my school and around my country, it is time to change your ways. Not only has the college admissions scandal exposed the flaws in the admittance system, but it is also exposing the flaws in you. We no longer want to play your game. We want to be judged by our true characteristics, instead of how well we can solve 20 math questions in 25 minutes without a calculator, after having spent more than an hour reading passages and determining their rather arbitrary significance. In the U.S., nearly 2 million students from the class of 2018 took the SAT, and 1.9 million students from the class of 2018 took the ACT, according to The Washington Post. The sheer number of students who feel forced to buy into the college admissions system is astounding, but even more so when you look beneath the surface.
The Princeton Review offers private tutoring sessions for the ACT starting at $150 per hour, and Tutors.com has an average rate of between $45 and $100 per hour for SAT tutors.
However, if you look past the cost of preparing for college, you will also see the emotional toll that this process takes on the students at PHS. To walk up to your friends at brunch and simply whisper the word “college” will send every person in a 10 foot radius into an immediate panic attack. More than ever, the people around me shut their mouths, refusing to reveal their test scores and their application process. I do not know which schools my friends are applying to. I do not know what kind of school they want to go to. I do not know why we are all so afraid of sharing this information.
Perhaps, like me, we are afraid that saying something aloud will bind us to that fact, forcing us to choose a small school over a big school, a public school or a private school, a liberal arts school or an engineering school. But what we do not realize is that the more we vocalize our fears, the more we can rationalize our thoughts and create a course of action for the future—a plan that reduces stress instead of induces anxiety, a plan that makes us excited rather than nervous.
In the end, college should be a thrilling next step in the game of life, not a headache-inducing application and decisions process. We need to trust ourselves and accept the work that comes with the reward, but we cannot look forward to a part of our life if we only ever dread thinking about it.
We need to understand that a good school is not necessarily defined by its ranking, and that our decision to attend a certain college should reflect something that we love about the school. While we view college as our next step on that path to a successful career, college should also be an enjoyable experience where students are able to explore realms beyond what they plan to do for a living.
I do not think we should boycott standardized tests or overthrow the College Board, but I do believe that we can change the way we interact with each other and the way we think about college. Please spend your time enjoying high school, so that you can look back on your time at PHS and remember the positive experiences, including the hours you spent poring over prep books and writing college essays—because that can be fun, too.
Maggie Black is a PHS student and member of The Piedmont Highlander staff