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College Admission Pits Me Against My Classmates

Is academic competition in high school necessary, or fair?

by Marissa Lazinsk

Competition. Everything we know is competition. How do we survive? We compete.

We compete for the best jobs and the most money and the best food and the best life. Why are some people living on the street in desperation for a bite of food or a drop of water while others are swimming in cash, wasting thousands of dollars on extra food and water each year? Because people are not satisfied with living an average life and being the same as everyone else. We are groomed to be the best and taught that competing is the only way to survive in this world.

We face competition in just about every facet of life — and school isn’t any different.

As a high school junior, I am realizing now more than ever the importance of working harder than everyone else. And the reason for this necessary evil: college. What college you attend is of utmost importance in determining your future. The smartest kids go to the top schools, right? Wrong. You could be the most perfect kid with stellar grades and lots of extracurricular activities, but guess what? There are thousands of students just like you with the same grades and the same number of extracurriculars who could easily take your spot at your dream school. Nothing is guaranteed.

The way the system works is you want everyone else around you to fail, so your success is viewed as more impressive. I never understood that concept until this year. I want to go to school for business because that is what I am passionate about and it’s one of my strengths. Oblivious to how the game is played, I thought I was just competing against students in other towns and states for the schools I want to get into. Then I realized my biggest competitors are my peers at my own high school. Most top colleges won’t accept more than one or two students from a particular high school. It quickly became a concern of mine that kids at Hall who get better grades than I do or have better resumes would be my competition for college admissions.

This reality is something I struggle to cope with. I should not have to wish for my peers to fail so I can succeed. Yet, we all just accept this way of life — survival of the fittest — and are taught that this is normal. Well, I don’t like normal. I don’t like having to compete against the people who I learn with and am friends with. I don’t like that taking three or four AP classes is now typical. I don’t like all the stress this competition brings to adolescents. I don’t like that we have to give up endless hours to study and push ourselves just to keep up. But it doesn’t matter if I like normal or not because I will continue to take four AP classes and get barely any sleep to finish my work each night. I will continue to be normal.

I despise our system of competition. If I earn a 95 on a test, that should be great whether all my classmates got 100 or 50 because my score is the only score that I should care about. But it’s not. I, along with all my other peers, care about how everyone else does because in reality that 95 means so much more if everyone else only earned a 50. However, students may not reach their full potential and learn as much as they otherwise could as a result of teachers pushing students against one another. And that’s just the way it is. We define success by beating the competition. But if life is a competition, how do we win?

This article originally appeared in the Hartford Courant, and is reprinted with permission of the author.