Great Expectations

Stanford acceptance rate in 2000: 13.2 percent; about 18,400 students applied. In 2005, this former number decreased to 11.9 percent; the latter increased to 20,200. By 2010, the acceptance rate was down to 7.2 percent, while the number of applicants had increased by more than 50% to over 32,000. And this year, there were nearly 42,200 applicants. Only 5.07 percent of them were accepted, reported as “the lowest admit rate in University history” (The Stanford Daily). While this does not absolutely prove that students’ expectations have risen over the last few years, it does show trends that likely result from this increase.

I definitely feel that, as a high school sophomore myself, expectations for students in middle school, in high school, and perhaps even in elementary school, have increased significantly over the last decade. Of course, this would be expected; however, sometimes I wonder: have they increased too much?

I think that many students nowadays have expectations that are much too high to be realistic. And I think parents’ expectations are, somehow or another, even higher. We are expected to take more AP and honors classes. We are expected to maintain top-notch grades. We are expected to have a lot of extracurriculars, and to excel in them as well. And, of course, we are expected to get into good colleges.

And I feel that these students, themselves, feel that they will be able to achieve these things. This is reflected in the increase in people taking AP tests, the increase of special classes to help students score better on standardized tests, and, of course, the increase in applicants to prestigious colleges. But the truth is, while many truly do have the potential to succeed, many more are just pushing themselves too far beyond their limits. Their expectations for themselves are too high. Their parents’ expectations are too high.

Take my friend for example. He is taking four AP classes this year, which, for many people, isn’t a problem. But for him, it is. However, his parents pressured him into it. He thought he could succeed, too; he was so confident about it at the beginning of the year. Let’s just say that his plans went slightly awry. Every night he has so many extracurriculars and so much homework, that he makes up his sleep during class. And now he is failing out of three of the four classes. Why? There was too much pressure; there were too high expectations.

Now, this isn’t to say that I am trying to attack him or anything; he is my friend, after all. And I know that some people are, in fact, able to handle multiple AP classes on top of five or six extracurricular activities. But not everyone is, and this clearly shows that many students nowadays are either forced into doing things that they are not capable of, or they have somehow become disillusioned to the fact that they are able to do more than they can actually handle. And while I do admire many of those applicants to Stanford, I think that some people just need to learn their limits. And some parents need to learn that Stanford is not the only path in life.

A large part of this, I think, is due to stereotyping. I think that many people have this mindset that the majority of students who are accepted into Ivy Leagues are highly academically oriented, meaning that they are involved in nearly every on-campus academic club there is. They also participate in Science Fair, have hundreds of hours of community service, hold a job, play a sport, and perhaps even an instrument. And this causes everyone to think that they have to do all those exact things to get into Harvard, or Yale, or Harvard of the West Coast. Even worse, parents get the mindset that their kids have to emulate those Princeton or Columbia-bound seniors. They expect their kids to emulate those Princeton or Columbia-bound seniors. I know from personal experience.

Of course, this definitely isn’t to say that all students have such high expectations for themselves, and certainly not all parents put so much pressure on their kids. But I feel that this trend is becoming more and more apparent, at least where I live. And I must also address the fact that perhaps many students who have such great expectations for themselves really do have the potential to reach those expectations. I do not doubt it at all. But not everyone falls under that category.

Personally, I think that it is a good thing to set high expectations. It gives people a goal to work to, and it forces them to work hard to achieve it. It is only when those aspirations are set too high, and those people are physically and mentally struggling to reach them, that I feel like saying, “Why waste your time?” And I am getting that feeling a lot more now, what with all my friends preparing for junior year and all, and about 90 percent of them stressing about school at least six times in any given day.

I certainly have my own expectations. I expect to work hard and get good grades. I expect to succeed in doing what I love. I expect to go to a decent college. I expect to wake up tomorrow and see that the sky has not fallen yet. But I do not expect myself to try and take a class that I know I cannot handle. I do not expect to achieve my aspirations without putting in hard work. I do not expect to get into all the Ivy League schools just because I expect it. Oh, and I do not expect the sky to fall down just because one thing in life did not turn out the way I had planned.

The thing is: we all have great expectations. We just need to learn to know and recognize our limits.

Note: I apologize for deviating from the topic quite a bit and going on a hundred different tangents; hopefully I didn’t completely butcher this week’s topic. The minds of high schoolers are quite all over the place, you see. Or perhaps it’s just me.