This column originally appeared The Central Trend
Senior Reena Mathews is entering her third year on staff of Forest Hills Central High School’s online newspaper, The Central Trend, and second year as Editor-in-Chief. When she’s not writing, she’s reading, playing music, working or volunteering, and taking part in various other school activities. But above all, Reena loves to write and express her opinion on The Central Trend, and is excited to do so for one final year. Related: Stress test: students speak their minds on the M-STEP
On the last Saturday of this past summer, I took the SAT. It is the eleventh College Board-sanctioned exam I’ve taken; my College Board tally will likely reach sixteen by the end of my high school career, maybe more, and that doesn’t even include the ACTs, M-STEPs, and more.
I was nervous, of course. It is currently the fall of my senior year; it is application season. Hallway chatter includes stressed discussion of college essays; teachers are already entertaining visits from anxious students requesting letters of recommendation; I see the Common Application website opened on laptops during class, red letters glaring back at kids ignoring the teachers before them.
The morning I had dreaded all summer was a gloomy one. I slumped out of bed far too early and in my half-asleep stupor, somehow made it to a secluded upstairs classroom in Grand Rapids Christian High School. The mass-produced, plastic-encased SAT booklet sat innocently on my desk as the proctor read the College Board script, cracking jokes after every few sentences at the mechanical, automated nature of the system that is supposed to determine mine and every other student’s futures.
My desk was flimsy; it felt like if I shifted my weight even a little, I’d tip right over. I fretted that this would be the demise of my score, that my discomfort would inhibit me from performing to my very tip top potential, and what feels like my last chance to get the score I desire will be destroyed.
It’s rather ridiculous the weight that four-digit number has on me. Or the three-digit SAT Subject Test scores. Or the two-digit ACT score. Or the one-digit AP scores. That is what the admission process reduces me to– numbers. I take all these standardized tests so that I can be standardized and an admissions officer can deem my statistics fit to be placed in the “to be considered” pile.
Four years of high school. Four years for others to have an impact on me and for me to have an impact on others. Four years to immerse myself in interests and passions and classes and clubs that test and stimulate me. Four years of memories and experiences and learning.
You can argue that college applications allow you space to express all that life you lived in those four years, but how much can I truly say? How much can I say about The Central Trend and how it challenged and taught and fulfilled me in the 200 characters the Common App gives me for each of my extracurriculars? How much can I say about the role of music and the instruments I play in inspiring and vitalizing me in 200 characters? How much can I say about all the Indian dances and functions and celebrations that make up a fundamental part of my identity in 200 characters? Because surely I can’t fit all that in the essay, for where else would I cover my journey as an individual, outside of external involvements? And after all, everyone knows the essay is for cute, quirky childhood anecdotes anyway.
In short, I have stories to tell, and so does everyone else. But an admissions officer doesn’t have the time to read every candidate’s life story. Thus I, and every other senior, must be standardized.
Why, then, is that still not enough? This standardized system to evaluate the very thing that can’t be standardized- people- diminishes kids to numbers and facts and still asks for more. My numbers may meet a certain standard, but my facts label me as just another Asian-American student with above average scores and a slew of academic-based extracurriculars.
If I have to be standardized, so should admissions. If we’re going to make it all about numbers, then admissions should adhere to numbers. The reality is this process expects me to be dynamic in one dimension, and I’m just not sure how that’s possible. Either admissions observe the standards they set, and make clear-cut benchmarks of minimum scores for each college, or the entire process should be reformed to allow a bit more humanity into our application– less emphasis on numbers, more interviews, socioeconomic rather than solely racial, affirmative action, etc.
And in a world where each individual student is so vastly diverse in interests, strengths, and more, I think the more just choice is clear.