It’s College Time!

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It’s College Time!

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It’s homeroom in the lounge in early December. Normally, seniors would be lying on the couches, half asleep, while playing loud rap music. But instead, they’re huddled together, backs bent, with serious expressions plastered on their faces. It is hunting season, or that is what it feels like at Ramaz in the month of December. Walking the hallways, especially those on the fourth floor, one can sense the intensity by gazing upon the worried faces of the seniors. The terms “ED,”  “Ivy League,” “smart people schools,” and “common app” have replaced the everyday lingo. There is at least one student who begins every class by declaring, “Mr. So-and-So, I’m so stressed,” and then puts his or her head down on the desk in frustration.

While Ramaz does carry a reputation for being the most college-focused of the yeshiva schools, stress exists everywhere, and Ramaz students are no worse (if not better) than other New York City private school students. There is stress at SAR and Frisch, at Brearley and Chapin, and really at any high school with serious academics. The difference may be the extent to which Ramaz students are willing to discuss their college choices. Almost the entire school knows where most of their seniors peers are applying: this number to NYU, this person to UPenn, another person has legacy and is applying to Cornell, there are 20 kids applying to Ivies et cetera, et cetera. The seniors know because the applicants are their friends, classmates, and potential college mates, and the lower grades bite their nails and hope for the best, knowing that in a few years it will be they who are applying, thinking, “If this person doesn’t get in, there’s no way I will.” And likewise, almost the entire school will know the decision results and insist that “clearly, this college doesn’t like Ramaz anymore if only two kids got in.” And of course, there is the occasional “this person took that person’s spot,” or “no way he or she was rejected.”

Some students feel that sharing college choices is not only okay, but that it even somewhat takes away from the cutthroat environment. “Knowing where everyone applied gives the grade a sense of unity and a sense of competition at the same time,” says Paola Mattout ’19. “Although you might have one of your closest friends applying to the same school as you, everyone is rooting for everyone to succeed and end up happy. If people were to keep it all a secret it would create a feeling of separation and secrecy.”

“Our grade was very open about where we were applying. It was really nice, actually, because it sort of took the competitive aspect out of the crazy application process,” adds Danya Jacobs ’19. David Adler ’19 agrees and believes people have a right to share where they’re applying. “It’s harmful if someone goes around telling the entire world where he or she is applying, but if you’re just telling your friend when your friend asks, that’s fine,” he says. “At the end of the day, I didn’t mind, because I knew I had done my best and couldn’t control the outcome once everything was submitted.”

Like Ramaz students, most Frisch students do share where they’ve applied. “People try not to be too obsessed and talk about it constantly, but they’re also not so stupidly competitive that they don’t share [where they’re applying],” says an anonymous Frisch student.

At SAR, there is more of a mix about how vocal people are about where they’re applying. People respect that sharing is a personal choice. “It really varies student to student if people tell where they applied, but my sense was that most people did,” says SAR student Ariella Linhart ’19. “The reason people told where they applied was because they didn’t want it to seem like college was the be all and end all. I personally shared where I was applying because I didn’t think it was a big deal but it’s not like I went around [telling everyone where I applied].”

Some Ramaz students would prefer an environment more like SAR’s. “The college atmosphere in Ramaz is not a welcoming atmosphere at all,” says Jacob Bengualid ’19. “Knowing where people apply results in students’ comparing [themselves] to other students as applicants, and I don’t like that at all.” Bengualid, who didn’t share where he was applying to his peers during the process, thinks that the school should do more to “relax the environment”  by “having successful speakers that didn’t go to ‘elite’ colleges to ease some stress.” Nonetheless, even Linhart added that “those hours before the decision was released were among the most stressful of my life,” presenting the idea that such intensity may be inevitable.

Still, nearly everyone agrees that sitting down to discuss college can exacerbate stress, even though college is on most people’s minds anyway. “College discussions definitely stressed me out, but I think those conversations are truly unavoidable,” says Jacobs. “However, by mid-December, college really became one of the only things people would talk about, and that was unfortunate.”

There also seem to be fewer college-related discussions among students at SAR. SAR alumna Miriam Liberman ’18 says, “It’s very low key. If you choose to be public about it, you can. I really didn’t care. SAR has this policy about not talking about it, and if you do talk about it, it’s only with your friends. Still, no one posts when people get into college, because there are so many people applying to the same schools who are friends with each other. Celebrating happens with your family and closest friends, not with the school.”

When it comes to college discussion, Frisch appears to be more in the middle of Ramaz and SAR. “Even though we didn’t talk about it excessively, around decision time, the environment was a nervous wreck, incredibly stressful because everything went pretty badly for almost all the top kids early,” says a Frisch senior. “Lots of incredible kids [received] bad feedback.”

On the other hand, it’s important to be happy for friends who are accepted, and one could even argue that prohibiting celebration feeds the mentality taken on by students that this is a decision that makes or breaks someone’s life. It’s difficult to find a balance between supporting each other in a stressful time and obsessing, between letting out stress and letting your stress affect others, and between celebrating and boasting. as Jacobs put it: “Until everyone knows where they are going, the topic of college will always be a stressful discussion to have.”