The race to achievement and college career readiness has invoked a paradigm shift in the high school experience. With an expectation that all students will further their education at the college level we have seen not just an impact on curriculum standards, standardized assessment, and rigor, but also change in mindset and decision making.
The amount of students applying to and attending universities has risen across the U.S. The introduction of the common application has simplified the application process. The end result is students applying to a significant number of schools and those corresponding schools breaking their own records each year regarding the number of applicants. The schools invite this increase as it increases their selectivity which improves their perceived status. For example, it was just released that UCLA received just over 100,000 applications this year for a freshman class that is expected to be 6,500. With a 6.5% acceptance rate, one could conclude that a tremendous number of fully qualified applicants are denied. This new pattern has turned the college admittance process into more of a lottery. The reality of this is that a student who enters high school with a specific university as their goal and one who devotes all of their decisions to meeting that schools expectations has the greatest risk of minimizing what high school can be.
There has been countless research and discussion about the value of finding the right "fit" and the correlation of success and what you extract from your college experience. This data contrasts the opinion that the most selective school will guarantee you the best possible outcome.
The shift in mindset experienced by students is a focus on developing a transcript that reflects high level of rigor and grade point average. With this comes a great deal of anxiety as students sometimes sacrifice physical and psychological wellness in order to remain competitive.This new path limits the greatest experiences that build a foundation for life long learning. That being, experiencing and overcoming failure or setbacks, taking risks, exploring courses outside of your comfort zone or that are of high interest. The extrinsic motivation created by this escalating race clouds perceptions as the goal to achieve can be viewed as intrinsic motivation when in fact is an outcome of the encapsulating competition. In the end, students shift their focus entirely to achievement at the expense of true learning.
My wish is to work to evolve this mindset to a new focus. Rather than focus solely on a specific outcome, I would encourage students to look at growth. Understanding strengths and limitations and making a goal to improve them incrementally. A high school student who finds the right mix of challenge, rigor, and intrinsic interest and who works to grow incrementally in each area will develop the attributes that have a greater opportunity for continued success. The ability to understand mistakes, failure and setbacks and your ability to improve on them as a valuable learning experience would be the greatest skill to graduate from high school with. The understanding that you have four years to appropriately challenge yourself and grow. Staying committed to follow your passions and interests and not be victim to "this is what I have to do" is invaluable. In the end, you can find yourself as a senior who did your best, properly challenged yourself, and expanded your interests. At that point you can then apply to a university that fits who you have become and what you bring to them instead of you trying to be what you think they want.