The question of college
College-bound students like me, a fresh graduate of high school and the college selection process, get asked one question by peers so frequently that it borders on the repulsive: Where are you going for college?
Of course, for the most part, people pose the question with good intentions. All they probably want is to give you advice, or simply to connect with you after high school. But the nature of college admissions ensures that it isn’t quite so simple.
Attending a selective or well-known school implies a certain level of intelligence, capability, or even affluence, while attending a school well known for all the wrong reasons, or a school that people barely even hear of, implies something else entirely. And people out there believe these ideas about education. They believe that the college makes you, and will continue to judge you because of your college in varying degrees throughout your life.
There lies the awkward situation in which people find themselves when they ask others where they went to college. Blurt out a name of an elite institution and you could come off as boastful to those from less prestigious ones. If you come from elsewhere, you get polite nods and the topic is changed.
It has to be admitted, however, that it’s part of human nature to categorize people according to where they attended college for convenience, and to feel better about getting into a “better” school. It’s all about a fickle, if sometimes just, game of pride, and the students who do well in school or in standardized tests do tend to get into the “better” schools, after all. It makes a lot of sense on paper, so it’s easy to accept it as truth, so much so that some take it as an objective expression of “I’m better than you” to those who didn’t make the cut.
Using college as a yardstick for achievement at a tender age has its own issues, inherent in the fact that we’re all different and we all grew up in different families, each with different capabilities. The foremost restricting factor for students who want to attend college is, of course, money.
Tuition, and sometimes room and board, in well-known private schools in Manila will cost more or less P100,000, which is a significant amount for most families that have to scrape by every tuition payment. The recourse for them is to head for our much more affordable public universities, but even then, these institutions have problems giving the necessary financial support to students who need aid that sometimes extends beyond tuition to support their studies.
In some instances, students even have to refuse their public university of first choice because they haven’t been given sufficient discounts or aid despite not having high incomes. This shows that there are still issues with how institutions determine the amount of scholarship money/discounts they have to give to make it financially feasible for students to attend.
There’s also the ever-present underperformance of many secondary schools in the Philippines, both private and public. The elite private schools or science schools often give their students much more rigorous coursework, as well as the personal attention of better teachers, besides having more academic resources to draw upon from both their campuses and their students’ homes. Their students already have one foot in the colleges of their choice; other students, the vast majority of students, from less financially taxing schools have to put up with frustrating instructors or a lack of attention in academic matters.
What all this means is that, in general, the college you attend is just as much a product of the circumstances you find yourself in, as it is a product of your efforts and talents. Some will be fortunate to land in places that others had to struggle for with a whole lot more effort. As such, it is difficult, and it’s not entirely merited, to judge people on the basis of where they’re going for college.
What’s more, we have to recognize that most people in the Philippines enter college so young. Personally, I’m entering college at age 18, one to two long years wiser than most students. More or less, I had an idea of what I wanted to do, and was capable of tackling obstacles and decisions in senior year with more maturity.
Without a doubt, some of the 16-year-olds entering college have developed a maturity belying their years, but a good number, in contrast, would still be lost in their youthfulness. Working hard in academics to get good employment opportunities in the future or deciding what to do for a living are very serious things to ask rather prematurely, and some find that they bloom only in their college years, when they have a clear view of their future and how they can alter it with their very hands.
Accordingly, judgment should be withheld for the reason that our students are thrust into responsibility a bit too early, and have yet to find their footing, for reasons that are, again, often beyond their control.
The question that must be asked then is not where you are going for college but, rather, what you will do with college. There is a lot of time for redemption, development, and growing up with four years of education, in and out of the classroom. Whether you make the most out of it and come out a competent person upon graduation, or merely while away the time just like in high school, mistakenly confident of your future or terribly smitten by the allures of the world, is ultimately what you should be judged on, not the name that your diploma bears.
As I said, your college didn’t make you in the first place. It’s the other way around: College is what you make of it.
Xavier C. Ante, 18, is a graduate of Ateneo de Manila High School and an incoming freshman at New York University Shanghai.