The College You Attend Should Not Determine Who You Are

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College should not depict who you are and who you will become. It is a path that people take; however, it is not the only path. There is no “right path” anyway. What people don’t understand is that earning a high school diploma, spending four (or more) years in college, beginning a career, and starting a family does not represent everyone’s perfect life. This is an American lifestyle that has been engrained so deeply in teenagers’ roots that they forget how to grow. 

How can you expect a 17-year-old to make a decision about what they want for the rest of their life? It is unfair and unrealistic. The stereotype that college is the only way to succeed is harming teenagers. Not only is getting into college the only “right” way but apparently, it matters which college you attend: How competitive is the college? What is its average GPA? What is the acceptance rate? 

Not once during my high school career has a teacher ever suggested taking a gap year. Why? No one ever suggests community college. Why? Because in our society that is shamed upon. This path is less accepted not only in Scituate but the South Shore as a whole. Even though 86% of SHS students applied to college (in 2020), people still tend to look down upon those who apply to “lesser” colleges.

This competition for getting into the “better” colleges is causing students to suffer mentally and emotionally. Every single person has so much potential and a whole life ahead of them, yet our success seems to come from a few simple words on a paper, “accepted,” “deferred,” or “denied.” 

Societal expectations regarding college success are causing a full-blown epidemic of anxiety amongst teenagers. This is a mental health tsunami of our generation. In a Pew Study, 70% of teens say anxiety and depression are a major problem amongst teens. 61% say they face a lot of pressure to get good grades. Yes, there is a healthy dose of competition; however, high school is taking stress to the next level. 

Every day people are comparing themselves to others, and it is degrading to some people. Those who decide college is not for them are judged. Those who attend community college are judged. Those who go to a less competitive college are judged. When in reality, it absolutely does not matter where you go to college. According to Malcolm Gladwell, a well-respected journalist, author, and public speaker, going to a prestigious college is not always the most beneficial. He asks, “Would you rather be a small fish in a big pond or a big fish in a small pond?” Gladwell argues that students are more likely to be successful in their careers and lives in the long run if they do not attend the most prestigious school. It is the confidence gained by working hard and succeeding that propels you into the workforce and prepares you to take on the world. 

The label or name of a college does not determine who you are as a person. It is sad to see people who are so caught up in the ranking and the number. Students are encouraged to embrace this delusional view of what it takes to be successful. Americans need to understand that. When thinking about your future, ask yourself, would you rather be a small fish in a big pond or a big fish in a small pond?