05/05/2014 11:19 am ET Updated Jul 05, 2014

The Problem with College Acceptance Shaming

This post was written by Adira Polite, a senior at St. Mary's Episcopal School who will be attending Bowdoin College in the fall. It was originally published on The Prospect, a college admissions and high school/college lifestyles website. You can follow The Prospect on Facebook or Twitter.

There is a popular (though not-so-new) trend among high school seniors wherein, following one student's acceptance at a highly selective school, fellow peers will attempt to figure out the reasons behind the acceptance. This can range from things as good-natured as "She's in the top of the class, so she deserved it," to resentful comments such as "It's only because she's a minority/first-generation/legacy student." This not only undermines the accomplishments of the accepted student, but also makes a rejected minority/first-generation/legacy student feel like an unwanted exception to the rule when/if they are not accepted.

Last year, a minority student at my school received a full ride to Cornell University. Instead of congratulating her and celebrating, most students instead grumbled about their perceived notions regarding her acceptance. I did not know the girl well enough to ask, but I am sure their judgments took a significant bite out of what should have been an exciting time.

Sometimes, such as in the cliche situation involving the child of an alum who has donated millions to the school or belongs to a Native American tribe, things can appear transparent. It can often seem that there is a clear explanation as to how or why someone was admitted. Nevertheless, shaming the person or vocally sharing your attempts to "make sense" of their acceptance is unattractive and tacky. This widespread mentality strips the one who has been accepted of the joy and pride that he or she should be allowed to feel. Highly selective colleges will not admit a student without a reason, and no one besides those within the admissions committee know the true reason.

Only a few weeks ago on the fateful, widely-known "Ivy Day," a good friend of mine received good news from Columbia University. She arrived to the school the next day glowing and (rightfully) proud of herself. Not even two hours into the day, her glow had disappeared. Why? Students had been attributing her admittance to her legacy status. Naturally, the proponent of the gossip was a student who was rejected by the Ivy League school. The joy of the accepted student's accomplishment was taken from her simply because her father happened to overcome the same feat years before her. As stated earlier, no one but the admissions committee can truly say why a student did or did not receive an acceptance letter. Secondly, if one studies admissions statistics, especially those of highly selective institutions, it will become clear that legacy status does not make as much of a difference as it once did in admission decisions.

The college admissions process, although admissions counselors and high school counselors claim the opposite, is indeed a competition. In an age where the first thing one does after opening an acceptance letter is hop onto Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to announce the news to the world, the college admissions process is more dog-eat-dog than ever. Students are playing a cutthroat game; thus, it is tempting to question and qualify the decisions of admissions committees.

However, doing so has no effect on the decision that has already been made. Furthermore, in doing this, students are simply hurting one another in vain. The member of last year's senior class who received flack after getting into Cornell deserved to feel nothing but excitement. In a perfect world, her peers would have been nothing but supportive. The member of my graduating class should have been able to use her Columbia acceptance to instill pride in her family name. Both of these students are victims of a common and ignorant practice that needs to end before the next admissions season. Instead of discussing why someone got the big envelope, focus on getting your own big envelope. Or just complain to your cat. That's always been my favorite alternative.