La voz del estudiante: Entrar en una universidad de élite es estresante, injusto y sobrevalorado.

Growing up in a family of immigrants, I was very aware of the sacrifices my parents made for me to receive an education in the United States. Their love and support knew no bounds, evident in their long hours of work and their emphasis on education from a young age.

One day, I took it upon myself to try to give them the best of everything by pursuing the golden ticket to success: getting into an elite college. It had been ingrained in me that those schools had the best resources, and if I wanted to become a successful scientist, this seemed to be the only way.

The advantages of an Ivy League education were drilled into my head from an early age. Figures like Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, actress Natalie Portman, and Sal Khan, founder of Khan Academy, attended prestigious universities like Harvard and MIT.

And the colleges mentioned in popular media and literature are always the most difficult to get into. In the popular TV show “The Summer I Turned Pretty,” one of the main characters transfers from Brown to Stanford. Many best-selling books by Ali Hazelwood are set in prestigious institutions like Stanford and MIT. And let’s not forget about the arbitrary U.S. News Rankings.

Additionally, social media feeds for teenagers are filled with videos like “Do these five things if you want to get into Harvard” and “You won’t believe where this INSANE applicant got accepted to college!”

However, elite colleges are not a guaranteed path to success, and the immense value we place on them sends harmful and dangerous messages to today’s youth.

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From eighth grade onwards, I participated in activities that I loved and that made me stand out. I even ended up on the news. College admissions were always on my mind, and I put all my effort into getting into one of the most prestigious colleges in the U.S.

This year, my senior year in high school, things changed. The Supreme Court’s decision to strike down affirmative action and changes to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) process created an atmosphere of confusion and tension. Despite this, I applied to schools like Columbia and the California Institute of Technology.

My classmates and I expressed our frustrations with the FAFSA delays; some had to postpone making college commitments (early action) until they were sure that attending their school of choice would not put them under financial stress. Although we were encouraged to seek help at school, we only had one counselor dedicated to helping a class of almost 800 seniors with their FAFSA and college application concerns.

For a family with no experience in American college admissions, the best free advice I could find was on platforms like Reddit, College Confidential, and Instagram. When news broke that the FAFSA had a calculation error, our physics group chat went crazy.

The FAFSA errors and delays had the power to influence where we would spend the next four years. And from a young age, we were taught that these four years had the sole power to determine the rest of our lives. I was fortunate to have supportive friends and family and the luxury of a computer and internet at home. But without thousands of dollars to spend on expert advice and services, many of my classmates and I were often left in the dark.

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Some of my friends admitted to having no idea how to fill out the FAFSA with its tricky wording. My dad and I watched a step-by-step YouTube video and an Instagram reel I saved, “What NOT to do on the FAFSA,” to help us fill it out.

As the months passed, rejections and waitlists hit me hard. I learned that college admissions is not a meritocracy. On a popular Reddit community, I found posts of people lamenting their shattered futures now that their Ivy League dreams had been crushed.

I heard stories of kids who stopped talking to friends and family and whose self-perception changed after receiving rejection letters from elite schools. I felt the same. After six rejections, I wondered if I was good enough to pursue astrophysics, the subject I wanted to study in college.

My ambitious dreams felt foolish. After years of effort, I was planning to stay in my home state of Texas to attend UT Austin.

Just like that, some people changed their attitude towards me, even though in reality, I was the same person. I had simply been overwhelmed by an increasingly stressful and competitive process.

A person who attends a state school is no less capable of success than a person who attends Harvard. I am tired of college tutors, essay-writing companies, and social media creators who make some teenagers think otherwise.

I received a call from one of my dream schools, the University of Chicago. I was accepted off the waitlist, but it seemed unlikely that I would be able to attend because of the cost.

Ultimately, with financial aid, I will be heading there this fall.

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We are made to believe that only the very top colleges matter. When high school students are immersed in this mindset, it is no wonder that some feel like their world is ending if they don’t get in.

There is so much that goes into the college admissions process that we cannot control, but we can change the narrative of the culture surrounding it. We can start by providing free support to families in need.

Siddhi Raut is graduating from Ronald Reagan High School in San Antonio, Texas, and will be a freshman at the University of Chicago this fall.

Este relato sobre las solicitudes a universidades de élite fue producido por The Hechinger Report, una organización de noticias sin fines de lucro e independiente centrada en la desigualdad y la innovación en la educación. Suscríbete al boletín de Hechinger.

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