The American College Application Process and the Commodification of Self

This time last year, I was working tirelessly on my college applications. The process, already taxing, took a bizarre turn as I received my college decision notifications in the midst of the “Varsity Blues” college admissions scandal. This article will not be about the scandal, however, I think that as a result of the scandal, my peers have become increasingly disillusioned with the college application process. 

Now that I am past the process and about to matriculate to college, I have realized that in many ways, the scandal was the impetus for me to reflect upon my experience applying to colleges and as a whole, my experiences as a student in America. Superficially, the scandal boosted my self-esteem—I received college acceptances without my parents bribing schools and falsifying athletic accolades. More significantly, it exposed the faults in our “meritocracy” and the weight that an “elite” college education has on status. The belief that hard work does not necessarily ensure success because of our faulty meritocracy and the belief that going to an “elite” university ensures status both contradict and co-exist, festering an increasingly competitive process and environment. 

“Competitive” and “ambitious” are words that generally make me uncomfortable. Ironically, it is likely that my peers in high school considered my friends and I as the “ambitious” and “competitive” students. Personally, I had identified as someone who loved learning and as a result, wanted to do well in my classes, likely perpetuating the competitive and ambitious culture amongst my friends and my class. Overall, there was a ubiquitous desire to get into a “good” college—a vague, but a common goal.  

When navigating high school with the goal of getting into a “good” school, one’s currency becomes the strength of their college application—the sum of their grade point average, extracurriculars, test scores, and achievements. I do not think that ambition and competition are bad qualities, however, I think that it often breeds the commodification of the self. Admittedly, I occasionally found myself thinking “x would look good on college applications, so I should do x” and I think that a lot of my peers could relate to that sentiment, treating themselves as commodities for colleges. As cliche as it sounds, I would quickly snap out of that line of thinking by reminding myself how much better it feels to pursue things I am passionate about and genuinely interested in as opposed to doing things that bore me, but are deemed to “look better” on paper. 

In many ways, with issues like the climate crisis and gun violence marking our generation, Gen Z is characterized by disillusionment. The faulty college application process is just another system that my generation has become disillusioned about. However, as I reflect, the importance of pursuing a passion is affirmed. Pursuing passion for the sake of pursuing passion prevents the very scandals that make us so jaded.

Featured image via U.S. News & World Report

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