As a senior in high school on the threshold of college acceptances (or rejections?), the question of the moment is undoubtedly “where are you going to college?” It’s safe to say that this question is directed at me at least once per day, if not more, and that I have absolutely no idea how to answer it. Where am I going to college?
With university admissions becoming more and more competitive, it’s no surprise that students across the nation are placing less faith in their academic and extracurricular qualifications, no matter how impressive they may seem. The declining admissions rates for top-ranking universities ensure students that there is no absolute certainty about the likelihood of their being admitted to the schools of their choice. This uncertainty has led to the great increase in applications submitted by individual students. In my twenty-student high school English course alone, I know at least two peers who are applying to over twenty universities due to fear of not being admitted at any institution.
And it is with good reason that they fear rejection from their dream schools: Harvard College’s undergraduate admissions rate for the class of 2019 was a record-low with only 5.3% of applicants accepted. Yale University, with a slightly larger admissions rate than Harvard, welcomed a whopping 6.5% of applicants to its prestigious facility. Universities claim that dwindling acceptance rates are due to larger influxes of undergraduate applications, but the suggestion that a larger applicant pool precipitates more rejections for prospective students predicts a grave future for higher-level education in America.
The United States appears to be heading on a trajectory towards the competitive educational characteristics of European countries where only select middle school students are admitted to high school. Yes, in countries like Romania, some 14 or 15 year-olds are forced to accept trade school as an alternative to high school. While high school is mandatory for all teenagers in the U.S., the declining possibility for gifted students to enroll in Ivy League or other comparable institutions parallels the lack of opportunity in the Romanian education system. My own mother, now a successful Treasury Accountant at a notable law firm, was forced to opt out of university in Romania due to her lacking physics exam score and went to work immediately after graduating from high school. It was only when she came to America that she was able to enroll in college courses and pursue a career in accounting.
If the United States were to become a country where intelligent students are forced to develop their education at universities that are unable to challenge them intellectually, the very heart of progress would be diminished. Students are told to aim for universities where they will neither be too comfortable with the courses nor challenged too greatly for their academic capacity. Yet, when many qualified teenagers are being rejected from schools that suit their abilities, there seems to be some sort of hypocrisy.
I guess the only thing that is safe to say now is that America will once again get a glimpse of its educational future come March when admissions decisions roll out.