The further I get into high school, the more I realize how similar it is to the game shows I used to watch on TV as a kid. Competitors are pitted against each other to see who will remain the last man standing and win the jackpot. However, in this case, the jackpot is getting into a “selective university” or better yet an “ivy-league school.” Being knocked won’t just leave you wet or drenched in slime, but instead with shattered dreams and aspirations mixed with feelings of shame and self-hatred. But just like all those gameshows on TV, the true winners aren’t the last man standing who wins the jackpot of a vacation or a jet ski. It’s the producers, directors and hosts who make millions of dollars airing the show. The true winners are the companies and colleges profiting off the system that built this horrifying high school gameshow.
A name that almost every college-bound high school student in the United States will recognize is the College Board. The College Board is the “non-profit” organization that has monopolized the testing and the advanced placement course industry. It is known for conducting the SAT, PSAT, SAT Subject Tests, and all AP courses, which are all things that most students couldn’t go a full day without hearing about. Not to mention, many colleges also recommend many of these things in the application process. Although at first glance, the College Board seems to be a very honest and benevolent organization whose only goal is to create a more equal opportunity for everyone. As their mission statement says, they aim to be what “connects students to college success and opportunity. However, a deeper look into the organization creates skepticism on their true motives. The organization earns tens of millions of dollars in net profit every year with executive board members earning upwards of three-hundred thousand dollars per year and CEO David Coleman starting with a base of five-hundred and fifty thousand dollars per year. It could be argued that although the higher-ups in the company are making large sums of money, the organization also saves large amounts of money for students when entering college with AP credits. However, often times these AP courses are not even up to par with college level standards, leaving students to fail later on. As U.S Representative of Massachusetts John F. Tierney puts it, the College Board’s non-profit status and their AP tests are, “one of the greatest frauds currently perpetrated on American high-school students.”
Aside from the organizations who profit from the game as if they are the producers and score-keepers of this game, there are also the colleges themselves who are the directors and hosts in the sense that they benefit directly from the excitement of students prospecting to attend their school. Even before high school truly begins, students already begin to get letters and emails from colleges and universities about their various programs. Examples like Duke TIP often greatly excite students who believe that being in these programs will give them a leg-up in the admissions process for these schools. However, that’s often not the case. In fact, as Diane Epstein of Bethesda put it, “Colleges want more applicants. The more that apply, the more they can reject, the more selective they look in the rankings.” On top of this, these programs often also cost thousands of dollars. Four weeks at NYU over the summer costs over $8000. Students are being fooled and robbed in broad daylight without even knowing it in this system.
The icing on the cake of this grand metaphor are the college consultants who are like the advertisements. These consultants are specifically hired by parents and students passionate to a point of desperation to get into the schools of their dreams. And as many of these people have noticed, this desperation can be an extremely lucrative venture. Many charge $10-30k per year with the promise of getting their clients into top-notch schools. However, the means of achieving these goals are not through creating a better learning environment or pursuing ones passions, but they are instead made through “resume building.” By this, I mean doing things such as creating fake clubs and organizations in the hopes of seeming more proactive and beneficent to admissions officers. This not only creates stress for the student who has to create and lead a multitude of endeavors they are likely not passionate about, but it also builds an extreme amount of pressure for other students to catch up with their own resumes. This creates a dangerous circle where more and more students go to these college consultants seeking to get ahead; this means more money for the consultants and more pressure in high schools.
High school is no longer just a stage of education but an industry. As money creeps into every part of the system driven by competition to get ahead, the problem just grows worse. Companies, colleges and counselors, these are the ones who created this gameshow and they are the ones who profit from it the most. A better system for the college process is not just needed but necessary. The longer we wait, the greater the stress and pressure builds up in the lives of millions of high schoolers. The key is that everything in this game is driven by competition and drive from students and parents, creating a rat race of people willing to do anything to get ahead of one another. While we, the students, are the contestants, we act as if we are the audience. It’s time we voice the problems with this lucrative game and act on them. It’s time we end this rat race.