The Perils of Being Elite

Many students, each year apply and believe they should be admitted to an elite college—defined statistically by yield, selection rate, and its inverse, rejection rate. So when reality dawns in the spring and applicants realize instead they are part of the 95% of those who will not be admitted to an elite college, they are disappointed, pride wounded

Hundreds of thousands of students every year apply to these uber-selective colleges and for Fall 2021, possibly emboldened by not having to submit SAT or ACT scores, total applications submitted increased by double digits year over year, especially in the Ivy League. Additionally, inflation in elite college applications may be further rooted in the rampant inflation of Grade Point Averages (GPA).

Today’s 4.0 GPA is the old 3.0, with GPA’s now reaching 5.0 and where seemingly only A’s or F’s exist. In such extremes, students go to extraordinary lengths to “goose” their GPA with Advanced Placement (AP), Honors and International Baccalaureate (IB) classes mostly for the weighted grade

In the academic meritocracy, students appear on paper like many other applicants—high grades, as many weighted grade courses as they can stand without being institutionalized (although many are medicated), and various extracurricular activities—a full time hamster wheel chasing admittance to the most exclusive (elite) college possible. 

2012 Commencement Speech at Wellesley High School by David McCullough Jr.

Yet, underpinning the race for elitism is not only a youthful hubris, fueled by the academic meritocracy, but also the belief that our individual worth is determined by credentials, rather than as Thomas Jefferson argued in the Declaration of Independence, we are endowed with merit by our mere existence as a human being:

…to assume, among the Powers Of The Earth, the separate and equal Station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them...

So, as a society, we are at a metaphorical crossroads, especially as entire schooling systems have been disrupted and exposed over the past pandemic impacted 13 months as we’ve collectively been on forced retreat, where many students and parents both reflected and reconnected with each other and their individual interests, freed from their regularly scheduled lives, a perpetual chase for merit that can be cashed in for admission to elite school one day.  

In the chase for merit, learning be damned, students often mistake aptitude with an ability to perform on demand, dangerously drinking the metaphorical elite college Kool Aid, believing it to protect against all of life’s ills. Though, maybe, students are beginning to realize they were born with merit enclosed, (re)discovering joy whether they attend college or not. Although only time will tell, the potential for reform and renaissance is real.

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About Jill Yoshikawa, Ed M, Partner of Creative Marbles Consultancy

Jill Yoshikawa, EdM, Harvard ’99, a seasoned, 25 year educator and consultant, is meticulous in helping clients navigate all aspects of the educational experience, no matter the level of complexity. She combines educational theory with experience to advise families, schools and educators. A UCSD and Harvard graduate, as well as a former high school teacher, Jill works tirelessly to help her clients succeed.
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