Opinion editorials, reviews and personal essays
By Prashanth Ramakrishna
We’ve reached that sacred, semi-annual occasion once again: Finals. For almost all of us, finals are important. They can bump our grades up to an 89.5% or, even better, up to a 92.5%. But, just as easily, they can drop us five percent, destroying all our hard work for the past three months. So, it wouldn’t be remiss to say that with finals approaching in less than two weeks, many of us are beginning to stress. For seniors, however, these finals hold more than just mere doses of concentrated anxiety. They represent a series of dualities of heightened emotion: dread and euphoria, horrifying anxiety and excitement, hatred and odd sentimentality.
This set of finals will be our last chance to raise our GPAs before applying to university. But, at the same time, this will be our final final exams at the Shanghai American School. It’s bittersweet, with a whole lot of pressure tossed into the mixer and a sprinkle of looming nostalgia. I say bitter, because “who likes finals?”; sweet, because we’ll never have to sit through perhaps the most arbitrary measure of intelligence that has ever existed; pressure-filled because of college; and nostalgic because even though finals suck, deep down, we’re all a bit sad that high school is coming to an end.
Converging with mid-December exams is the first dreaded “Decision Day,” more affectionately known as “D-day” for those who applied “early” to university. Because of this, senior conversation over the past two weeks has been less about finals and more about getting accepted into college.
College is a disease at SAS, a disease that lasts from freshman year until senior year, and worsens with time. By first semester of senior year, students are obsessed. Students underhandedly compete with one another by comparing GPA’s, test scores, and extra curricular activities. I am not exempt. I am guilty as well. Perpetuating this college crazed culture, are teachers, who after four years of watching seniors from uncertain freshmen into near adults, I would argue, are equally if not more interested in who’s applying where and who will be accepted where.
For many of us, the worry of D-day has invaded our dreams, laid siege to our study time, and left us in tears.
“I have nightmares that I won’t be accepted anywhere. It’s a legitimate concern. I’m actually afraid. What happens if no school wants me?” lamented senior Brian Saldana over lunch. Saldana, applying early to Harvard, suffers from the same malady that my sister did when she was applying. My sister would wake up in the middle of the night, crying in worry that she wouldn’t get in anywhere except for community college. Despite her incredible credentials, the stress of college admissions made her doubt herself. My sister ended up attending Duke University.
Senior Allison Fu expressed similar concerns. “Deep down, I know that the chances of acceptance are slim, but somehow I’m still banking on getting in. That’s going to make the rejection so much worse – that I was expecting an acceptance. I’m definitely going to cry if I don’t get accepted.” said Fu who is applying early to Stanford.
This anxiety about early decision college acceptances and the effect of final exams on college admissions translates to a heightening of the most feared affliction of students: senioritis. After semester exams, when everything that could possibly affect our chances of acceptance has been tied up neatly in a bow and sent off to universities, we will have absolutely no reason to continue consciously striving for academic excellence. All we need to make sure of is that we don’t fall so far beneath our standards that our college acceptances are rescinded.
According to senior Samson Wang, “Second semester is going to be smooth sailing. I’m going to be at school, but I’m not really going to be at school, if you know what I mean.”
This is more than just to say that kids are stressed about college and finals, and that senioritis is a thing. Why are these all true? And, why are they true to such an unhealthy extent? Because the Shanghai American School perpetuates a culture of college obsession. We are driven to take AP and IB courses because they look good on our transcript, those same AP and IB courses are taught to the test because good scores help college admissions, success is measured by GPA, and getting into college is put on a pedestal as the sole purpose of highschool. Because of all of this, once college decisions are out and the “purpose” of highschool fulfilled, students no longer feel compelled to work, at least not with the same rigor and conviction as they did before.
Last week, I was speaking with a few friends of mine about the ridiculous amount of work we have as homework compounds with finals, which are both compounded by college applications. We agreed that school shouldn’t be so miserable. Learning shouldn’t be so miserable. We felt as though the past four years had been nothing but a means to an end. We were all just biding our time, biting our toungues and waiting to get out. It shouldn’t be that way. School should be fun, learning should be fulfilling and college should be all but an afterthought. College is just the next step, not the end game. It’s the responsibility of the Shanghai American School to help its students understand that.