The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

Poisoned-Ivy League: Competition Mania at WIS

Picture by Stewart Black

“You got into Harvard Law?” “What, like it’s hard?”


Every season is college season at WIS, and as the focus of the ‘game’ moves onto the shoulders of the class of 2017, the tension is beginning to mount. “What’s your GPA?” “I went to bed past midnight every night this week, and my assignments still aren’t done”. “There are only so many WIS students who’ll get accepted into Ivies each year”. “I’ll never get into college”.

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The combination of an elite DC school atmosphere, helicopter parents, and a general perception of ‘Ivy League or bust’, it’s no wonder that I’ve been asked which universities I’m applying to more times than what I’m doing this weekend. And for the juniors, it goes beyond the simple, ‘how did you do on the _____ test?’ that we’ve been subject to since middle school. It’s the constant, gnawing doubt that we’re not good enough, that our best won’t cut it, that there will always be someone else who’s smarter, savvier, more well-rounded. In the minds of so many, the envelope that arrives in the third week of March will be the end-all, be-all: the culmination of twelve years of schooling into either a ‘congratulations’, or – heaven forbid – a ‘we regret to inform you’.

And yet, the studies that are being done now suggest the opposite, that HOW you do at university means much more than WHERE you go, that elite universities foster worthlessness and self-doubt among the ‘average students’ in each class (of which is comprised of entirely exceptional students). Of the top 10 Fortune 500 companies, only one CEO has an undergraduate degree from an Ivy League, and fewer than one-third of U.S. senators have a bachelor’s from an Ivy. Not to mention that Harvard rejects one in four students with a 2400 SAT score, and that their on-campus suicide rate is twice the national average.

So why do we put so much pressure on ourselves? Does it give us an ‘edge’? I’ve heard a number of theories from my classmates, from ‘it’s what everyone else does’ to ‘it helps me stay motivated’. But when the intense competition is so prevalent that Mr. Spezzano has to send out an email advising students to keep “our focus away from grades, scores, acceptances, denials,” the competitive spirit is no longer a source of motivation, but a source of fear.

And as frustrating and futile the class of 2017’s competitiveness is, there is very little that can be done. Years of hearing about college applications, pressure from parents and ourselves, and a natural tendency to compete is nearly impossible to reverse. The school administration has recognized that there is a problem in the Upper School with grade-obsession and stress levels, but with the demanding IB curriculum and an ingrained mentality of the gravity of university acceptance, our stress levels will stay high until May of next year, come hell, high water, or a 5+.

By Rosie Bradbury

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    erundelandMay 20, 2016 at 5:42 pm

    Wow. A masterpiece. It brought tears to my eyes.