Why My University Application Was One of Protest


by Lidia Paladini, UWCM
2nd April, 2018


[aesop_content color=”#000000″ background=”#ffffff” component_width=”600px” columns=”1″ position=”none” imgrepeat=”no-repeat” disable_bgshading=”off” floaterposition=”left” floaterdirection=”up” revealfx=”off” overlay_revealfx=”off”]Just like most of us, I’ve spent hours on end in the past year researching different universities and colleges, all while trying to come one step closer to unveiling the riddle that my future seemed to hold. Drowning in admission processes and course descriptions, I was, like many of us, ultimately driven towards the one guiding path that all students eventually seem to turn to for support in decision making – the dark depths of international university rankings.
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Following the trend in our community, I initially applied to universities in the UK, among them, according to the rankings, some of the most prestigious institutions in the world. After many nights of mind-breaking decision making and seemingly endless considerations and re-considerations of my options, however, I decided to turn these offers down.
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My university decision was one of protest. A protest against seeing higher education being transformed into a business model that drives students into debt for desiring knowledge. A protest against the notion of elitism and prestige that narrows our minds and traps us in between toxic pride and superficial labels. A protest against a system that bases more value on figures than the development of the individual. And a protest against a culture that has developed at our school, where students who choose less popular courses or universities are looked down on.
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I refuse to be a part of a paradigm in which the value of an individual and their self-esteem is measured by the degree of elitism of the university they will attend. As UWC students, I believe we carry a responsibility of questioning and, ultimately, breaking social constructs wherever we can. We have been equipped with the power to deconstruct the layers of a system that is held together by superficial rankings and pretentious perceptions of prestige, and making use of that power should, in my opinion, be a given.
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While I don’t intend to deny the quality or validity of an Ivy League education, I want to encourage you to challenge the comfort we take in being the elite. I believe that it is our fear of being ordinary that drives us to adhere to this system. As UWC students, our uniqueness has been assured to us from the first second of the application process on and giving up on our sense of superiority almost seems like giving up on the part of ourselves. Going to a public university without ultra-competitive admission procedures feels like admitting defeat in combat against the ordinary. The dawning realization that every individual outside of our bubble has a life just as complex and unique as our own seems painful to admit for many. It is that very sense of superiority that will ultimately be our downfall, and stand in the way of the possibility of achieving genuine and lasting change.
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I believe firmly that there is little sense behind university rankings. There is not one best university in the world. Just as every one of us is unique in their way, so are our wants and needs for higher education and optimal learning conditions. An undergraduate experience, for me, shouldn’t be about establishing a high-esteemed social image of ourselves, but much rather about discovering our place in the world, broadening our horizons and understanding the world of knowledge as a challenge rather than a set array of facts. In this respect, I wish I would see more promotion of education models that lie outside of the traditional spectrum of higher education. The adherence to the promotion of a system that is often strictly limited to an emphasis on the UK and US from the side of the university office is worrying to me. Not everyone has to go to Britain or the United States, and not everyone should feel obligated to go to university either.
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One might call the decision against elite institutions a decision of sacrifice. In a world where your paycheck is often made greatly dependent on your choice of university, deciding against prestige seems like economic suicide. But it seems bearable to me to accept that sacrifice if that means that I will be paid and hired based on authenticity rather than the name of a university on my CV.
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I want to remind you that, ultimately, being able to enroll in any higher education at all is a privilege that we shouldn’t take for granted, in any case. I wish that all of us who end up going to university will be happy in the place they choose to study in, even if that choice might not have been one that was entirely their own. I hope dearly that those who will go on to study in Ivy league schools and elite institutions will never cease to question the system and will challenge the given structures where necessary, from within. And I hold on to the hope that, no matter where we go, we will carry with us the values that we cultivated and learned to practice during our time at UWC.

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