Speak Now by Columnist Maddie Raymond: Was it worth it?

  • Maddie Raymond FILE PHOTO

Published: 5/15/2022 10:04:41 PM
Modified: 5/15/2022 10:02:52 PM

College woes are not a new topic for this column. From my November column on the stress of the admissions process to dropped hints in subsequent articles about my admissions and rejections, you all have watched me go on the ride of my life this year in finding a place of higher education.

I’m glad to say it’s over now. I’ve picked Bryn Mawr down in Pennsylvania, and now all I need to stress about in that department is finding a roommate and signing up for good classes. But this process has left a lasting impact on me. I’m more afraid of rejection now; more doubtful of my worth as a student and whether the 12 long years I spent working towards the goal of a good college were even worth it. And I’m not alone. As if my cohort of students hasn’t suffered enough, this college admissions year was one of the toughest in history.

In the midst of my generation’s high school experience, we were thrown into a global pandemic that brought our social and educational trajectory to a screeching halt. Spring 2020 for me was a vast abyss of days at home; it wasn’t a given that I’d be able to leave the house to go to the grocery store, never mind college. Yet then it subsided and like a slingshot all of my generation’s pent-up energy was let out in full force. We applied to college like never before, aided by the fact that test scores were no longer a defining factor in most college applications. But because these colleges experienced extra applicants, that meant extra rejections. I ended up with three myself and that made me angry. I started to wonder things I usually didn’t let myself wonder. Was my rejection because the school went test-optional? Was it because there were too many kids? Was it because I was white?

As the rejections and waitlists rolled in, I felt myself start to slip. It was so easy to let the anger and frustration and doubt get to me. I told myself I had worked so hard for so long in my life and to not get into the most prestigious college of my dreams was a crushing defeat. But then I remembered that college rejection is not just my fault. When I got the idea for this article, I thought maybe I would put the blame on the college system. None of us deserved to get rejected, and now so many students — especially BIPOC ones — are experiencing crushing rejection on top of life stress and marginalization. But it’s not that simple; colleges can’t accept everybody and this applicant pool was the biggest in history.

So, I redirected my anger. I steered it away from the dangerous path of affirmative action, and away from the idea that the larger applicant pool had somehow robbed me of a prestigious future. Over and over in my articles I reiterate the idea that the most marginalized among us must be given the most support if we are to truly live in a just society. If that means a school filling slots with BIPOC, low-income, disabled, and otherwise marginalized students that are equally qualified to me, then so be it. I’m privileged; I’ll survive. Instead, I aimed my anger not at the college system itself but at our society that tells us we must work ourselves to the bone our entire K-12 school lives just to possibly have a shot at prestigious universities which are exorbitantly expensive and often known to have racist origins. I’m angry at the system that encouraged me to build my entire self-worth around whether or not the right college admissions counselor decided not to throw away my application.

What experiencing the college admissions process showed me this year was that it is truly random. Yes, there are qualifications but at the end of the day it comes down to luck. It’s why I want you all to try and shift your perspectives. In an area like this one, people put a lot of weight on college. I’ve known since I was a kid that I’m expected to go to college, and that the more prestigious it is the better. After we graduate, we’re looked down upon for choosing to enter the workforce, or going to technical schools or community colleges. We’re taught that a college degree is the only ticket to a fulfilling, happy life. So what I want you to do is expand your horizons. Don’t assume every graduating high schooler is going to college, or that the more prestigious the college is the more successful a person a student is for going there. Try to see high schoolers not just as students but as people too; people who deserve to live a happy life even if the college grind is not for them.

Looking back on my past year of college chaos, I’m glad I was able to find my place through it all. And that’s what I wish for every high school student. I know a shift in societal perspective isn’t easy, but I want you all to try. Support the young people in your life regardless of the path they choose. Help support students who are most marginalized but know that college and prestige is not the answer to everything. The college admissions process likely won’t get any easier, so I want to protect the next generation from feeling the same heartbreak I have. All it takes is a change in perspective.

Madeline Raymond, who lives in the hilltowns, writes a monthly column.


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