College culture in Westfield: Let’s talk about it

For 12 years I have worked tirelessly to get to the spring of my senior year. Finally here, I have reached the point that my entire education has led up to: going to college. What was supposed to be an exciting day, May 1, notoriously known as “Decision Day,” I found myself dreading. 

For those who don’t know, May 1 is National College Decision Day, the deadline for seniors to pick their college. Seniors line the WHS gym in their selected school’s T-shirts and take pictures with their friends. What might seem like a joyous day for many can be stress-inducing for others. 

All throughout high school I have thrived on academic validation. I have put suffocating pressure on myself to take all the AP and Honors classes available, maintain a high GPA and participate in as many extracurriculars as possible. As I wrap up my high school career, I now regret the sleepless nights. For the past four years I have been hanging on by a thread, fueled by Dunkin iced coffee. While I’m proud of all that I’ve accomplished, it’s also been accompanied by crippling stress. 

Especially this year, I felt an immense amount of pressure to go to a top college. I applied to a lot of schools — some safeties, a handful of targets and a bunch of reaches. I had my heart set on going to a prestigious private university and I did get into some of those name-brand schools. However, I chose to go to one of my safeties. I almost feel ashamed to share that’s where I’m going when the people around me are going to elite schools. Especially being in a majority of Honors and AP classes, many of my peers are going to top universities in America. I dreaded telling my peers and teachers where I was going to school. Would they think less of me? 

I find the concept of Decision Day quite ostentatious. What may seem like a simple tradition of wearing your college’s merch to school, I see it as a time to flex privilege. There are a large number of Westfield students who can afford the resources to obtain an esteemed college acceptance. It would be hypocritical to not admit that I’m guilty of this too. I am fortunate to have been given the resources to guide me through the college application process: private SAT tutoring, a college counselor and everything in between. 

Not to mention, the people not going to college whether it be next year or in general are ostracized. In Westfield, it feels like the only option is college. If you take a different route, you’re seen as an outcast. Whether you’re taking a gap year, enlisting in the military, going into the workforce or taking your own path, Westfield education is entirely based on furthering your academic career, ultimately ending with college.   

We treat entering college as the ultimate climax. But the fact of the matter is that college is just the beginning. So much focus is placed on getting into college, that many students haven’t had any time to explore why they’re even going to college in the first place. I didn’t think twice about applying to college. To me, it wasn’t even a choice; it was a subsequent step in my journey that has been mapped out since I was in first grade. 

So why did I choose the college I did? Why did I choose my safety school instead of an elite college? It was the best fit for me both academically and socially. It offered something the single-digit acceptance rate schools couldn’t: opportunities specific to my major. 

While we can’t change the academic prestige Westfield holds, we need to stop putting pressure on students to go to the college with the lowest acceptance rate. My advice would be to pick a college that’s best for your goals. That’s what I did and I wish I would have realized that sooner.