The Pressure is On

Why I won’t let peer pressure dictate my college decisions
My computer screen congratulating me for submitting my application to the University of Chicago
My computer screen congratulating me for submitting my application to the University of Chicago

Last April, I searched far and wide for my prom dress. I shuffled through websites and department stores, hoping to find one that spoke to me—and then, one day, I did. I was uncertain at first and hesitant to make the large purchase. I can be indecisive. However, a week later, I heard word that two of my classmates planned on wearing the same dress to prom, so I lost interest. Their decision on what to wear for prom completely dictated what I chose to wear to prom. Sadly, choosing a prom dress is too similar to choosing where to apply to college.

I have undergone a unique experience of navigating the college application process. I exist in an echo chamber of teenage minds enthusiastically determined to make it into top colleges. Countless individuals aspire to exchange their high school toil and determination for the golden key to prestige.

And for most of my classmates, the desire to attend such elite institutions is self-sourced. It does not feel like students tend to compete against one another to stay on top—which perhaps explains why there are no longer valedictorians at CHS.

However, upon entering my senior year, I noticed, for the first time, that a sense of competition had sprouted between peers: the rivalry of Early Decision

The Early Decision (ED) admissions strategy, used almost exclusively by private institutions, allows students to apply early to one school in a binding way: if you get accepted, you must attend. Acceptance rates for ED application pools tend to be higher as a smaller pool of qualified applicants tends to apply, which makes applying ED that much more appealing. Nevertheless, a student is only allowed to ED at one school per round, which makes choosing your one school a big deal. 

For me, applying ED sounded like a dream come true. I hear back sooner—in early winter instead of late spring—and my chances of acceptance are statistically heightened. But what I didn’t realize is that for many around me, the ED process becomes a breeding ground for competition.

A faculty member once told me that when I apply for college, I am competing against kids from Clayton, not kids from Ladue—which is undoubtedly the case.

Colleges desire geographic diversity. There is a reason college pamphlets brag about housing students from all 50 states. In turn, Columbia University, for example, isn’t going to admit 20 Clayton students through early decision if they only admitted nearly 630 applicants from its early decision pool, according to records from 2022. Even if such 20 students were equally qualified for an Ivy League school, Columbia will pull from across the entire city, state and region of the Midwest—not so condensed to Clayton High School. Students know this. So, a “wise” senior doesn’t want 15 friends applying to the same ED because their application could likely be compared side-by-side to their peers’, thus hurting their chances of claiming a spot.

That said, this mentality is stupid. I understand the logic model to a degree, but I don’t think calling dibs on a school upholds the principles of applying to college.

The other day, as I sat with some classmates between classes, my friend suggested taking an ED route to Brown. Soon after, another classmate chimes in: “don’t do that, my friend is really trying to go there.” A couple of weeks later, I toyed with applying early to WashU, another amazing university just down the street from our school. My friend responds with: “I would think about that, Sidra. I know a bunch of people from Clayton alone applying ED, and the more that apply, the harder it is for everyone.”

Since when can we call dibs on entire colleges? Since when are our decisions concerning where we will spend the next four years of our lives based on the desires of our peers? 

In 10 years, we won’t remember the names of most of our high school classmates; at least I won’t. Why should their voices hold so much weight? Your decision to apply to a particular college should not affect my decision to apply to a particular college. Choosing your school, or ED, ought to be a conversation that stays within the borders of your mind only, and the social politics of high school are negligible in that decision. 

Considering the argument that too many CHS students applying to the same school lowers everyone’s chances, I don’t think this is simply the case.

 I hope college admissions officers see me as more than a CHS student. I hope they dig deeper, beyond my GPA and ACT score, to find my voice. And with that, how could officers quantitatively compare two complex human identities side-by-side? They cannot. So yes, the more students that apply, the more applications they read, but that doesn’t mean they objectively compare CHS candidates; it just means they consider more of them and hear more voices. 

As for the prom dress, I regret not getting it. I regret letting my peers shape my decision on what to wear because I feared upsetting them. However, I won’t make the same mistake with college. My choices on what to wear or where to apply are independent of others. The best I can do is go toward happiness and hope my peers can find the same. 

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About the Contributor
Sidra Major
Sidra Major, Digital Editor-in-Chief
Sidra Major is a senior this year. Sidra initially joined the Globe because she loves to write, but quickly became enthralled with the journalistic perspective. As the Digital Editor-in-Chief, she hopes to elevate the media facet of the Globe and better connect this publication to all members of the Clayton community. Furthermore, Sidra is involved in Clayton's Speech and Debate team and Science Olympiad team.
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