Instead of chatting about their activities over March break, two friends argued over whose GPA was higher in their latest report card. Ellie Gan, a rising senior at Miss Porter’s School in Farmington, Conn., watched the argument between two friends escalate.
“The conversation was getting heated — they started to scream and get really frustrated,” Gan said.
The argument leaked out into the dorm’s hallway and other students were alarmed at the yelling. Gan said it ended when a faculty member called the guidance counselor and she intervened.
Both girls were looking at the same colleges and they began to constantly compete with each other in almost every aspect, Gan said. School, sports and even boys became a competition. Both girls, who were once best friends, were now seen as blockades standing in the way of their dream schools.
High school students across the country have similar stories of arguments among friends that arise around the time they apply to college. One likely reason for the hard feelings: Getting into selective colleges is as hard as ever, with more and more students using the common application to apply to more schools with ease.
Students often feel that they need to set themselves apart from their classmates, who in many cases are their direct competition as colleges strive for geographic diversity. Friends are lost, tensions run high and people are concerned who is applying to the same colleges as them. Many students do not want to fall below the standards of their peers.
“The competition in the college process destroys the foundation of relationships in schools. It turns friends and classmates against each other forcing the other to hope for ultimate failure of their peers, ” said Trixie Szilagyi a rising senior at Naples High School, a public school in Florida.
Szilagyi said she tries to ignore her peers when they bring up college or start to become competitive, but the stress of junior year gets to her sometimes.
“The stress builds up and you end up taking it out on each other,” Szilagyi said.
Szilagyi said that hangouts and parties are no longer fun because college is always brought up somehow.
Vera Polacek, a former dorm parent at Miss Porter’s school and currently dean of students, has noticed that students are less open about their acceptances and rejections these days — and this can lead to more blowups.
Polacek describes living in the dorms 10 years ago. ” Girls would post their [college] acceptance letters outside their doors, and post their rejection letters upside down outside the doors. No one was embarrassed — everyone would be happy for each other about acceptances and just laugh together about the rejections.”
But nowadays, students are more secretive about their applications, Polacek said. Friends hide where they are applying and only share acceptances upon admission. Students often start to resent each other because of this come senior year.
How can these competitions be avoided? Polacek says that “understanding that the college process is about finding the perfect fit for an individual and it’s not about getting an acceptance from the perfect school” is key.
Another tip: Try your best to ignore peers when they are competitive, and support them anyway — they will support you back.