Admissions scandal captures past and current stress culture

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COURTESY PHOTO // THE FLAT HAT

With the recent college admissions scandal and the College of William and Mary’s undergraduate decisions coming out last week, my own experience with college admissions has been floating around my mind. I have been reading a lot about the recent admissions scandal, and to say the least, hearing about the fifty parents who bribed various colleges to admit their kids makes my blood boil. But even worse, it has brought back the all-too-familiar pit in my stomach that I had throughout my own college admissions experience and for most of high school, a feeling that I’m sure all students at the College know well.

As students at the College, we have all had our fair share of stress and anxiety when it comes to academics and extracurricular involvements. Getting into the College is quite a feat, not to mention the workload we meet when we get here. The college admissions process overall is truly its own form of unique torture. Every fall, around two million high school students embark on the journey of applying to college, but it really starts years before that senior fall semester.

We all know the feeling of sitting at the dining room table after dinner, narrowing down a list of schools based on average GPA, majors, location, price and a myriad of other factors. There are the practice SATs, the real SATs, the ACTs and then the SATs again, again, and again. Most painstakingly, there’s the task of trying to curate your life to fit into the box of what colleges are “looking for” in their students, a task that is virtually impossible. From my sophomore year of high school onwards, I never felt like I was doing enough. I wasn’t taking enough AP classes, wasn’t participating in enough clubs, wasn’t playing enough sports and wasn’t volunteering enough. Applying to college was an incredibly stressful time in my life, and I think I can safely say that anyone who currently attends the College would say the same.

Not only has this college admissions scandal reminded me of how tough those few months were while I sent in application after application, but it has made me realize that those feelings never actually ceased. Finally, Dec. 2, 2016, I got into my dream school: the College. A huge weight was lifted off of my shoulders, and I felt like I could breathe for the first time in months. The rest of my senior year was all fun and games, until I got here and it all came back.

Before stepping foot in Williamsburg, Virginia, I thought college would be like how it is in the movies — parties every weekend, students playing frisbee on the green, hanging out constantly with friends and being free to do what I want, when I want. In a lot of ways my experience at the College has been like it is in the movies, but what I didn’t expect was the constant weight on my shoulders that appears every time I take time for myself. Recently I have been struggling with the same worries I experienced throughout high school, and I completely blame it on the College’s stress culture. I am pretty involved on campus, and from a “normal” standpoint, the handful of clubs and social organizations I am a part of should be more than enough. However, at this Public Ivy, if you have time to breathe, you’re not involved enough.

Students here love the word “involved.” By a landslide, the most common question I am asked on a day-to-day basis is, “So what are you involved in around campus?” Seemingly harmless, this question often leads to a race of who is doing more. It feels just like when I was filling out college applications and rambling off my extracurricular activities, and it doesn’t stop there. If you spend enough time in Earl Gregg Swem Library, you are bound to hear conversations from students practically bragging about how much they studied for their test this morning, how many meetings they had yesterday or even how little they slept last night. It feels like a competition of who can spread themselves thinner, and quite frankly, I feel like I am spread thin enough.

However, no matter how much this mindset bothers me, I can’t say that I don’t contribute to the madness. I feel like I am constantly trying to prove to my peers that I am doing enough, whether it’s enough homework, studying or socializing. Even my closest friends often make me feel inadequate with comments about how I spend my free time or even how much of it I have. Even if we don’t mean to, I have to think that many of us undermine the accomplishments of our peers here at the College as a way to deal with our own stress and feelings of shortcoming that we are surrounded by on the daily.

This kind of environment is so toxic, and I wish every day that I was able to leave it back in high school. Don’t get me wrong, I love this university with all my heart, but I do envy friends at other universities that can go out on a Friday night without having to set their alarm extra early on Saturday to get their homework done, or can play frisbee on a sunny day without having to sacrifice either sleep, meal time or study time later that night. Although us twamps often joke about “stress culture” and laugh it off, I feel like it has taken away from what my college experience could and should be.

Email Lauren Cohen at

lhcohen01@email.wm.edu.