How We Think About College

Editorial  /  by Grace Blaxill '18  /  April 14, 2017

Katherine Xiong '19 / The Lawrence

As we approach May 1, the end of the college process lies close at hand for V Formers and is just starting for the IV Form. While the College Counselling Office makes a point of keeping the process reserved for juniors and seniors, college pressures loom over all Lawrentians throughout their high school careers. It’s hard not to recognize that most of us have been told about the singular importance of attending one of those elite, unattainable, yet omnipresent institutions with names like “Harvard” and “Yale” from a very young age. At such a pivotal time for the upperclassmen, we should be asking ourselves: Why do we let college scare us? Or, more specifically, why do we think getting into an Ivy is all that matters?

I first faced this question in my freshman English class. For homework, we were assigned William Deresiewicz’s article for the New Republic, “Don't Send Your Kid to the Ivy League.” In the piece, Deresiewicz related his own extensive experience with elite colleges, detailing how the kids Ivies produce feel lost, unhappy, and confused. As a freshman who was still reaching for those vague and distant goals of college admission, I read and annotated the article well and came to class prepared to debate and discuss it. However, I paid the article itself little mind. Sure, I thought the author had some compelling points, but not trying to get into an elite school didn’t even feel like an option at that point in my life.

Was I alone in my single-minded tunnel vision of the future? Isn’t it true that most of us see college not as an option, but rather as the omnipresent future for which we must constantly strive?

While we often make a fuss over the Ivy League’s prestige, resources, and ability to grant us connections and jobs outside of college, how much truth lies in these beliefs? Though Ivies are prestigious, eminence doesn’t necessarily make a school better, particularly if you care about working closely with professors, using college as a time to find yourself, or studying interesting and diverse fields. As for resources, state universities receive copious amounts of funding from state and federal governments, enough to give their students plenty of money and opportunities to work with. Plus, choosing not to spend thousands in tuition for an elite college may cost you a few renovated class buildings, but it will save you from student debt for the rest of your life.

Furthermore, for each new class of IV Formers, the College Counseling Office starts off with the statement, “You’re all going to college,” followed by a round of applause and audible relief from students. While the statement is meant to be comforting, we must ask ourselves why we need that comfort. Why do we assume that college is our only option? Technical schools and productive gap years can offer students equally important experiences. College can be informative and transformative, but only if we go into it having thought our decision through to understand what we actually want from the process.

Let’s re-examine our priorities as an institution. We call ourselves “The Lawrenceville School,” but in the surrounding community, most refer to us as “Lawrenceville Prep.” And is that not how some of us see this school? How some of us see college? As “prep” for some future condition? Do we see going to high school here as a valuable experience in and of itself or as a mere stepping stone for the next educational level?

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t go to college or that we shouldn’t try to go to one of the best. I’m not saying that Lawrenceville doesn’t try to make us consider what we actually plan to gain from the next four years of our lives. I’m only suggesting that perhaps we should stop assuming that elite colleges are the best for us, and ask ourselves: What do we really want?