A Word on Competition and Passion, in College.

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What do you think of when you here “competitive college”?  I think (or thought) of unattainable Ivys.  From Harvard to Cornell.  Competitive -in that the acceptance rate is low-.  And, in one regard, this is true.  It is competitive to get into these schools… but it is also somewhat ironic to consider the “difficult” part of a school, the part before you even begin.

I go to a school that has a mid level to lowish acceptance rate, but nowhere near an ivy.   

What I want to talk about, is something my roommate opined in our lounge the other day, “they shouldn’t let so many people in here, if they are just going to fail us out”.  She was valedictorian in her high school and now struggles to maintain a b- average, here.  

Especially for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) students, which make up a high percentage of our population, getting into majors can be almost impossible.  The electrical engineering major accepts somewhere around 10% of applicants.  People call our beginning math classes (pre-calc and calc) “weed out classes”.  I’m sorry, my friends, but you are dandelions being ripped out of a group of tulips (those fucking EE majors).  What this means, is that getting into this university is only a quarter of your battle.  

I’ve somewhat sidestepped this rat race (I’m not in STEM).  That doesn’t mean I don’t have to compete to get into my chosen disciplines… I’m supposed to have a 3.2 to secure a place in my two intended majors.  But, nevertheless, people look at us “humanities kids” as “dumb”, which for me, is a small price to pay for not becoming a bitch to STEM.  STEM, is just not my passion.

In my classes, all people care about are grades.  Few care about learning for the sake of learning.  When I ask people what they like, they tell me their intended major, the acceptance rate, and their GPA.  This shocks and saddens me.  I thought college was a kind of destination… that once we got here, we would flourish in our interests.  Finally free to pursue exactly what we loved for the sake of passion.  And whether that is STEM or humanities, we would try hard, spurred on by our passion.  Instead, people here work hard for some arbitrary goal.  

Competition over passion.

I have witnessed a deep sadness and anxiety in my classmates.  “Worth” seems to be intrinsically tied to one’s major and gpa.  

I never tell people what grades I get.  When someone asks me how I’m doing in a class, I intentionally talk about how inspiring (or uninspiring) it is.  I discuss the topics, writings, readings, and conversations.  I refuse to answer, “I have a (insert gpa)”.  At some point, living and dying by what grade you have, is just sad.  Like… what is our goal here?  Just to get a 4.0, get into our major, and start the next arbitrary life competition (now, you wanna be the top engineer in your office).  Competition for the sake of competition is base and uninteresting.

When did we all decide intelligence was somewhere between 0.0 and 4.0?  When did we decide that’s what defines success, happiness, and passion?  It is not my definition of those things.

I’ve gotten to a place where I avoid the people in my classes.  I stay away from the students I know will start a conversation with, “what grade did you get in bio?”.  I’ve found my people (other students who agree this is a painful existence).  One of my favorite people, here, is an intended mechanical engineering major, she remarked to me the other day, “how can I take any risks, when I might be penalized and forced to transfer?”.  That, to me, is the epitome of sad.  

This had created a dangerous culture, and I know it has at other similar institutions.  I would warn people against colleges with competitive majors.  I would discourage institutions from setting up their system in this way.  If you do decide to form a competition based society, understand the risks and rewards.  You are risking your student’s happiness, passion, intellectual excitement, intrinsic motivation, and risk taking.  You are gaining: and elite group of tulips free from dandelions (I happen to like dandelions, just so you know… some of my favorite people are dandelions).  

Remember, if you truly love something, you have won one of life’s biggest competitions.  If you have passion and intrigue, don’t let the trappings of college get in the way of that, it ought to be the other way around… that a college encourages and facilitates your interests (in my dandelion of an opinion).

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