There are currently around 7.4 billion people living on this planet. Breathing, laughing, talking, crying – the works. You know, living. And what happens when you plunk down 7.4 billion people together on the 29 percent of the globe that’s actually suitable for living? That’s right, competition.

It’s a cutthroat tangle of claws, well, fingernails, to get to the top and stay there. Everyone knows that to scale a summit, you have to start somewhere. And in our world, that launch pad is education. There is no bigger example of our dog-eat-dog world than in the universal system that epitomizes competition: the college application process.

It’s a generally well-known fact that anyone that wants to be anyone usually has to go to college.  Interrogations wrapped in a thin layer of well-meaning by relatives, a constant stream of nagging from parents, nervous quips from peers – all of these and more contribute to a steadily growing pile of stress labeled as “college” in the back of every student’s head.

However large or tiny the size may be, it is present regardless as it sits with no sign of leaving until the first glorious rays of summer beam down at high school graduation.

The college process is unnatural. As unnatural as the impressively orange hue of Tropicana that proudly declares to be 100 percent fruit juice, placed right above the minute white font that mumbles “made from concentrate.” Millions of students in all different shapes and sizes are shoved into a tiny metal compactor known as standardized testing, as a scantron determines a student’s validation, self-worth, and range of opportunities.

People conform to the system, learn the rules of the game. As competition threatens to drown everyone, people use everything they’ve got to stay afloat and ahead of the game. A marching line of identical A’s on a piece of paper, a gross overgeneralization of the fruits of four years of labor, are simply no longer enough.

Perfect scores are also a given. It’s just not enough. And why would it be? Millions of students can get good grades. But how many students can be perfect students, a musical prodigy, MVP of the basketball team, and a proud community service helper? This is the sheer unnaturalness of standing out in order to get into a “good college.”

The stigma associated with getting into unknown schools is one of the biggest factors behind the pressure of getting into college. If the name of a college doesn’t render a gleam of recognition in one’s eye, than students might as well hang their heads with eyes of shame. I urge you, lift your head up. College is what you make of it.

The college process is unfair. As said before, people learn the rules of the game and play with all they’ve got. People take hours upon hours of tutoring and classes, and practice all for a Scantron sheet that your acceptance relies on. For many, it is no measure of intelligence, but rather endurance and repetition when taking the test. There is also the glaring matter of money and connections. However uncomfortable this subject makes people feel, there is no denying that this magical combination will get you far. We’d like to think that it all boils down to pure qualifications. With factors of legacy, relationships with the school, and money, there’s no telling how even the playing field really is.

I can remember reading an article which pronounced that colleges look for “pointy students,” as opposed to well rounded students. By “pointy,” they refer to students who show a strong tendency, skill, dedication, and interest towards a particular field, rather than being simply mediocre at several fields. The idea behind this is to form a well-rounded class made up of “pointy students,” rather than well-rounded students making an overall well-rounded class. This is yet another pressure to add onto that ever growing aforementioned pile in students’ heads.

While there are plenty who have clear future paths (lucky them), there are also plenty who have no idea. Kids should be allowed to be kids. It should not be the end of the world if a 16-year-old does not know what he or she wants to do with their life yet. The college process presses people to “self-reflect” and analyze themselves, while the reality for many is that their lives have led up to getting into a so-called “good college.”

People get so caught up in numbers and statistics that their original goals and ideals have been muddled by competition. Teens should be focused on developing a sense of self, building self-image, and just having fun. Anxiety and depression all crop up as side effects of the incredible pressure that is placed on students today to achieve a long-sought after mantra of perfection. In the end, the college process is inevitable and pretty much necessary. There really is no other way to take such mass amounts of diverse students and somehow personalize the system. It is what is is, and if anything, it’s early exposure to the real world. I now say with utmost sincerity, if your graduation cap is amongst the ones thrown up against the blue sky of this coming summer, I envy you.