From accessible to exclusive: The growing selectivity of college admissions

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College admissions have always been a rat race in the United States, demanding a relentless, competitive pursuit of academic success. However, in recent years, it has transformed into what students believe to be the mere luck of the draw. In the past few months, Washington High School students have received a series of disheartening college decisions, many of which consist of rejections and waitlists. Even the most qualified candidates are struggling to get into well-ranked schools, unable to visualize their futures. What are students’ perspectives on this phenomenon and how are college decisions impacting them emotionally, financially, and academically?

Many WHS students believe that the rising number of applications is causing candidates to blend together, making it impossible to differentiate between them. Cindy Ma, a senior, believes that “everyone has become too similar on paper because they all have the same mindsets and academic goals. If I were an admissions officer reading about similar AP scores, essays, and extracurriculars, I would find it difficult to choose too.” She finds that the competition is growing steadily due to rising numbers and academic achievement, filling the country with similarly qualified candidates rather than allowing students to stand out. Additionally, Mahrosh Burhan, a fellow senior, states that “immigrants who didn’t even have the resources for education in the past are now starting to get more resources in the United States, so more people want to pursue college.” Although she believes this to be a positive movement, she emphasizes that it increases competition. 

Students also agree that FAFSA, the federal student aid application, was a major contributing factor to admission anxiety this year. Traditionally, students submit their forms before the new year, but this time, in an attempt to renovate the website, they postponed form submissions until a few months into 2024. Even after FAFSA was made accessible to the public, several glitches prohibited families from accurately calculating financial aid. Thaneesha Singh, a WHS senior, says she’s incredibly frustrated with the system. “People have spent hours applying to these schools and don’t even know if they can afford it because of FAFSA,” she says. “The lack of planning is playing with people’s lives, and I feel like this could’ve been formatted so much better.” She elaborates that this is especially true for low-income students who must base their decisions solely on the aid they receive. Burhan adds to Singh’s sentiment, stating that “they aren’t considering that what they’re doing is affecting people and not letting them pursue their futures.”

Throughout all of this, students often experience extreme disappointment and a decline in self-worth. Burhan was especially affected by this year’s decisions, sharing that “it makes you feel so bad about yourself. I’ve seen kids who have put in little to no effort in high school get into top colleges, which is frustrating because my hard work didn’t pay off.” Ma, on the other hand, wasn’t as harshly impacted by college decisions. She says, “My parents always said to work hard for yourself, not for college, and to not base your success on college acceptances. I didn’t take it that personally, but it’s different for my friends who genuinely believed they were meant to be at certain schools.” Working so strenuously in high school and not getting into a societally valued college greatly disappoints many students who are emotionally influenced by such decisions.

Overall, students still appreciate the American education system for what it is, but believe it could be improved substantially. Singh, for instance, relays that “here, our college system is better than countries like India that have it all determined by a single test. Even though the U.S. has a lot of work to do, it’s miles better than basing college acceptances simply on test scores.” She, Ma, and Burhan acknowledge and appreciate that our system provides resources students in foreign countries cannot access. Thus, students continue to value the opportunities provided by our education system, but still hope for a more accessible future for higher education.

Shruthi Subramaniyan is a senior at Washington High School. She was born and raised in Fremont, and this is her first year at The Hatchet. She’s interested in covering topics regarding the arts, culture, current events, and the Washington community. Her passions include art, music, teaching, and psychology. She also plays badminton on the school team and loves spending time outdoors with her friends. In the future, she hopes to attend university to study psychology and explore potential careers.

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