Marketing yourself to an Ivy can make you less of a person

Maanasi Natarajan

Maanasi Natarajan

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 As a junior on the verge of college applications in less than a year, I find myself often contemplating whether anything I do is “enough.” I keep my grades up, but wait, I’m not valedictorian! I enter essay contests, but wait, I haven’t won enough of them! I participate in extracurricular activities, but wait, I don’t do as many as I should!

 And I’m not the only one. The race for admissions to the top-ranked schools in the country is heating up. I find myself refraining from telling my friends the activities I participate in outside of school in fear that they will take advantage of those same opportunities and have a leg up on me. It’s an unhealthy mindset to adopt, but it’s uncontrollable. I’m scared I won’t get into college because the girl next to me, who had a better SAT score and more extracurriculars, got in instead; and worse, I’m scared that girl will happen to be my best friend.

 In fact, many students embarking on their college journeys have the very same mindset; the competitiveness inevitable in an affluent area combined with the pressure of getting into an Ivy League school brings out the worst in people. It seems that college admissions are no longer about the character of a person or a student’s genuine interest; they are instead a game that many are strategizing to win.

  Being an Indian-American in a suburb of New Jersey, I have seen this firsthand. Although the stereotype of “You’re an Indian, so I already know you’re valedictorian and president of the math league” isn’t completely accurate, the aggressive ambitions of Indians, especially parents, is still alive and well.

  Most of the time, the immigrant Indian parent’s dream is for their first-generation child to go to a renowned institution and have the elite college experience that they never had. And while one would argue there’s nothing wrong with this dream, the ways of going about it can be disconcerting.

  A contention between these parents and parents of other children often arises, many times in conversations about SAT scores and GPAs. When a parent hears about the Patel next door that made a perfect score on his or her SAT, they instill in their child that to get into college, he or she has to beat that Patel next door. One more extracurricular, one more violin recital, one more volunteering job.

  This psyche isn’t exclusive to parents, either. Indian kids are infamous for the most-asked question after any assessment: “Hey, what did you get?”.  Never a “How can I improve?” but rather a “Did I one-up the guy next to me?”

  We seem to think there’s a formula for getting into college: perfect GPA, perfect test scores, volunteering hours, extracurricular activities – but are we following our parents’ dreams or our own?

  Most students study as much as they possibly can and join various clubs because that’s what they’re told to do; it’s their duty as good children. But what’s the point if you don’t actually like it?

 I’m guilty of it too; I’ve joined many a club and took many a high level science and math simply because it’s another item to add to my resume. After all, I too dream of attending an Ivy League school, one with a less than 10% acceptance rate. I have to “market” myself as the perfect candidate; but that’s just it. Why should I have to market myself at all? Why should I give a false picture of myself with false interests to an academic institution (often confused with a God-like figure)? After all, if a college doesn’t like me for me, do I really belong there?

  In spite of these truths, and how often I tell them to myself, I still strive be the best. I still want to beat the kid next to me, and I still wonder if I’ll ever be enough to gain admission into the college of my choice. I know I’m one of millions of high school students across the United States.

  I just hope they don’t lose themselves in an effort to please a higher power (more commonly known as Princeton).