How Soon is too Soon?

William Hamilton ’22

Opinions Editor

As the spring rapidly approaches, and with it the imminent release of college admissions decisions, it is hard not to think back to where I was at this time last year. With the ardor of months of application preparation and years of high school academic work nearly behind me, I could only wait in nervous anticipation to hear back from each of my chosen schools. It is undeniable that early preparation for the college process was essential to my success in college admission. Nonetheless, is it possible that premature college focus can be degrading to a fulfilling high school experience?

From my personal experience, the first time I turned my eyes up to look at the far-off prospect of college was in the winter of my eighth grade year. The lofty goal of attending a top college—a concept of which I really had no grasp of at that time in my life—was one of the driving factors that motivated me to apply to private high schools, and ultimately earn a scholarship to attend one.

As soon as I started high school, it seemed that talk of college was already invading my world. While I navigated the uncomfortable waters of making a completely new set of friends at a new school, administrators loaded my schedule with seven honors classes. Advisors assured me that it was essential to take such a weighty docket of courses so that I would be eligible for Advanced Placement courses the next year. And that’s about the time when the AP frenzy started.

When course selection began for my sophomore year, rumors rapidly spread (mostly from kids with older siblings) that if you didn’t take AP courses, you’d never get into college. So, still years away from college applications, and possessing an incomplete understanding of how APs actually played into the college process, most of us students started a trend that would eventually lead to long sleepless nights, and week after week of stress.

By the time junior year arrived, I was no longer focused on high school. Instead the mentality that I possessed was that each and every action I made would have some effect—positive or negative—on my college prospects. In reflection on that year, as I fought to maintain good grades, tour colleges, and study for and take standardized tests, many of the high school memories that should have been light hearted were tinged by the stress of college-oriented academics and preparations.

When I reached senior year, I was shocked at how fast high school had slipped away. But really, I should not have been surprised in the slightest. I had enjoyed my time in high school, however, there were very few times that I could say I was fully present within a high school mentality. Those four years of my life had been spent looking ahead, instead of living in the present, and I feel that this same experience is being shared by more and more students—especially those that attend private or college preparatory high schools.

The commitment to academic success and dedication to college applications encouraged and supported by my high school education allowed me to become the Holy Cross student that I am today. In the same vein, I am not advocating for elimination of college oriented preparation throughout high school, because that would be even more damaging than the present high school culture of preparation. Nonetheless, a balance must be found between early college preparation and a distinctly high school focused education.

Although some portion of the later years of high school should be devoted to the college application process, students should be allowed to focus on the fulfillment of high school academics and other commitments without the looming pressure of college admissions. Students should choose courses that interest them and that will provide a reasonable challenge instead of feeling pressured to take unrealistic course loads for fear of “not getting into college.”

High schools exist to educate students, and to lay the foundation for the more advanced knowledge they may one day receive during college. If the current state of affairs continues, these institutions of learning will undoubtedly lose sight of the noble mission under which they are established.

Secondary education must remain distinct from higher education, so that there doesn’t come a day when the sole function of high school is to groom a student’s college application, building them into the most appealing applicant possible. If four years of high school are spent doggedly tailoring one’s profile to fit the benchmarks of a dream college, then those will be four years devoid of meaningful academics, friendships, and enjoyment that can never be experienced again.

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