More that mediocrity

Safety schools are not “bad” schools, and it’s time to stop treating them as such

Andrea Perng

For a solid while in March, I thought I was “doomed” for UC Riverside. I had only applied to it (and UC Merced) as a safety school, and I thought it would be much better for me to go to any other UC because their prestige was higher than UCR’s. Virtually every classmate around me had gotten accepted to higher-ranked UCs like UC San Diego or even UC Berkeley. It was obvious that UCR wasn’t my first choice, but as the rest of my colleges handed out rejections and waitlists, I felt a growing sense of despair. Was I sealed to mediocrity, while everyone else around me got into big-name colleges and actually made something of themselves?

And then I read a couple of stories. Stories about kids that suffered through the worst; stories of kids that, against abuse and discrimination, against everything pitted against them, proved the world wrong. Stories of kids that suffered every kind of prejudice imaginable, and made it anyway. Stories of kids that went to college.

That, I think, is when I realized I was being damn ridiculous.

Forget going to schools like USC and Northwestern, I should have been grateful for the fact that I could even go to college.

Just the fact that we can go to the nearby De Anza College and easily transfer into a four-year university grants MVHS students a massive advantage. Our counselors aren’t hellish types that try to discourage us at every turn, and our parents, even if they sometimes do so in harmful ways, at least want us to succeed somewhere. I can complain about going to UCR rather than UC Irvine, and that in itself demonstrates that I had options and ambitions in the first place.

Besides, many schools that people consider “safety” schools have certain unique strengths that are overlooked. For example, San Jose State University, with an acceptance rate of 53%, is considered a shoo-in for many in MVHS, but because of its location in Silicon Valley, tech companies routinely look to its computer science department for future recruits. In that regard, opportunities in SJSU’s CS department are nearly unparalleled even though it’s a state school.

We also have to keep in mind that our safety schools are more often than not other people’s reach schools. It feels supremely awful to fall in love with a certain college, doing everything you can to get in, only to have someone belittle your efforts by speaking of that college as a last resort with no redeeming qualities. In addition, academic achievements are not going to be the same for every student at school. MVHS might have a reputation for its extremely competitive environment, but there are still going to be students whose stats are not nearly high enough to approach UC levels. Deprecating the college they’re going to does nothing but add more negativity to a months-long process already rife with it.

When it comes to prestige, the name of a college is really only artificially inflated by human perception. The quality of education offered at that institution cannot be determined just by its name. 20 years ago, when my own parents were attending graduate school at UCLA, UCI was scoffed at for being a party school. But now it’s a school that many MVHS students actually hope to get in to. I expect the same thing to happen to UCR and UCM: people might look down on those schools now, but give it another 10 or 20 years and they just might be regarded as matches or even reaches at the same tier as UCI today.

If you’re disappointed because the only schools you got accepted to were “safety schools,”  it doesn’t mean you’re a terrible person who needs to Check Their Privilege™. It’s perfectly fine and valid to be disappointed in yourself, especially after spending time and money on the college admissions process.

But understand that your college is not somehow “lesser” because you considered it a safety. All that means is that you’re a strong enough student. Be proud of your accomplishments, and make sure that others can be proud of theirs, too.