We’ve all seen the memes: a photo of ivy peeling off of a building captioned, “When you’re convinced you’ll get into Brown but then have to settle for Tufts,” the “Tufts Class of Brown ED1 Rejects” Instagram bio and the complex math equation with a quote underneath, “Damn it Jim, I’m Quirky, not an Ivy League Student!” Some are funny, most have gone stale, but they all raise the same question: Why do we keep perpetuating the idea that attending a more selective school like Brown University would have been better for us?
It’s because we are falling into the all-too-common trap of looking to false indicators of how students should pick a school, namely rankings and acceptance rates. Many students are groomed to think that their goal is the Ivy League and that lower acceptance rates mean a school is inherently superior. The chase for prestige has clouded our judgement toward how we pick schools and has led to unnecessary levels of selectivity and cutthroat competition.
It’s not our faults that some of us think this way. Every year around college acceptance time, our feeds are clogged with articles headlined “Teen gets accepted by all eight Ivy League schools,” and “[Insert Highly Selective College Here] has become even more selective, with an acceptance rate dropping 2.3 percent from the previous year.” Tufts students often share articles touting acceptance rate drops, proud at the selectivity (although our acceptance rate actually increased slightly for the class of 2021). To be fair, while these factors — rank, reputation, acceptance rate, etc. — usually signify a high-quality university, sometimes they miss the mark.
A college’s exclusivity does not directly correlate with its quality, and a school does not intrinsically improve because its acceptance rate dips. It only means that more people applied and the same number got in. Some of those people may very well be applying for the prestigiously low acceptance rate. This perpetuates a dangerous cycle of selectivity. If more and more students continue to apply each year because they are drawn in by a low acceptance rate, the university is left with little incentive to improve its resources and quality of education.
The further these acceptance rates drop, the more high schoolers feel they must do to stand out, leading them to bolster their resumes with classes and clubs they don’t care about just to compete with other students in this small pool of selective schools.
Colleges, including Tufts, need to stop promoting their selectivity as if they are becoming more selective because the quality of their education has increased. The reality is that the college market is being flooded with more interested students, allowing schools to be more selective and increase already steep tuition.
Prospective students should also try to think beyond the realm of selectivity and instead look at which colleges are actually able to support all of their students through need-blind admissions policies, guaranteed housing and low student-to-professor ratios. At the very least, as Tufts students, let’s try not to be part of the misconception that selectivity is what matters most.