I’m Eva, a post-2000s student.
Under the pressure of fierce competition, it has become a necessity to spend tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands, and sometimes millions of yuan to hire college admissions consultants who can help students get into prestigious universities.
During the college admissions season, behind every post celebrating an acceptance letter from a prestigious university, there stands a star consultant.
A recent report by Bloomberg revealed that in order to secure admission to Ivy League schools, wealthy parents have been hiring educational consultants for their children as early as elementary or middle school, with fees reaching up to 5 million RMB.
Education has become a luxury, even for the middle class.
Although my parents couldn’t afford the million-dollar intermediaries, three years before my application, they signed me up with a well-known consultancy at a moderate price.
The reason was simple: a decent track record with successful admissions to renowned schools. The agency’s fees ranged from over 200,000 to a million yuan. Given my potential to excel, I received a “discounted rate” of 160,000 yuan.
At first, we were filled with hope for the future, believing that if I followed the plan diligently, I would secure a spot at an Ivy League school.
Unfortunately, those promises were never fulfilled and instead pushed me further away from my dream of attending a prestigious university.
Application lists don't need it,
Why do you still do it?
“You’ve always been playing around, right? No wonder your grades are bad. Look at others, they prioritize studying.”
In the middle of the night, I stood in the hallway studying, while my advisor sternly “educated” me.
I am someone who believes in finding joy in every inch of learning and values my school experience. After all, academic knowledge can be self-taught anytime through online resources, but the pleasure of exploration, interaction, and exchange can only happen at school.
So, during my two years of IB high school, when teachers recommended taking six courses, I couldn’t let go and wanted to challenge myself, so I chose seven. However, in the first mock exam, I scored several 5 out of 7.
When the advisor found out, they criticized me for not studying hard enough, leading to the scene at the beginning:
“If you have lofty aspirations, you should demand more from yourself. If you want to get into an Ivy League school, don’t choose such difficult courses. Maintaining a high GPA and getting straight A’s in every subject is a must.”
Similar conflicts arose in my activity planning as well.
“Why do you want to participate in this activity? It’s not needed on your application list. Can you put it on your resume? Can you handle it? Why waste time on it? Do you have enough time? If you have time, why don’t you spend it on practice questions?”
When I timidly told my intermediary teacher that I wanted to engage in a charity activity focusing on women’s rights, she bombarded me with rapid-fire questions of doubt.
It is undeniable that the advisor’s words were not entirely wrong.
I spent my elementary and middle school years in a prestigious institution within the system, and that logic has been ingrained in me. My grades were also excellent, and I could adapt to that learning system. Following that path, I could secure a place in a good university.
However, I made the choice to transition to an overseas high school outside the system, hoping to experience a completely new educational model and view learning from a fresh perspective. The school also influenced my judgment of myself and the value of education.
Is it worth it to prioritize achieving perfect scores in every subject and forego challenging myself or enjoying high school life?
But at that time, the advisor was an authority figure in my mind.
Although I sensed something was amiss, my initial reaction was still self-doubt, and I suppressed the discomfort within me to dutifully complete the Ivy League checklist-style tasks.
I participated in numerous competitions, activities, and research projects. However, I realized that as soon as the activities ended, everyone disconnected. Looking back, all I had gained was seemingly useful certificates.
I gradually became a spoiled student who had to constantly spend money to feed various “opportunities” for growth. The advisor became my babysitter, dictating what they deemed worthy for me to do.
As the college application season approached and I started writing my essays, I realized that I couldn’t express any genuine thoughts or emotions. Perhaps my own voice had long disappeared in the midst of questioning.
And when I presented the sentiment of “I know sharing my ideas is pointless,” they began to attack me, claiming to teach me a lesson and telling me that my tears were nothing but “crocodile tears.”
To escape, I repeatedly procrastinated on submitting the initial drafts. However, my lack of cooperation led to me being labeled as a rebellious student in the eyes of teachers and parents. To make matters worse, my parents, who still had great faith in the authority of the advisor, even locked me in my room, forbidding me from going out until I finished writing.
I had no choice but to fabricate something that would please the teachers even more. But it saddened me deeply to have to concoct a fake narrative, pretending it was real, as an underage student.
Read the books as soon as possible,
The longer you delay, the bleaker your future becomes.
Meanwhile, my educational consultant selected many schools for me that I knew I wouldn’t attend.
Although I was confident that my application materials would guarantee me admissions.
“Read whatever books you have, the longer you delay, the bleaker your future becomes.” These repetitive words from my teachers made me further doubt myself. Was I really incapable?
Ironically, I believed that having no future was simply a scare tactic of arbitrarily labeling someone as “having no future.”
Later on, I discovered that many of my classmates with similar backgrounds and grades were admitted to excellent universities. However, most of my application materials were targeted at those “guaranteed” schools that I had no interest in.
By chance, I met an older student who was studying abroad. She told me that this was a common tactic used by many agencies.
When signing the contract, they greet you with smiles, praise you, and assure you that you will be admitted to top 50 or even top 100 universities in the United States. But when you actually apply, you realize that these universities are relatively easy for a Chinese student with decent grades to get into.
During the application season, they arrange some “safe” schools for you and convince you that this is your level. Regardless of your preferences, the contract has already categorized this “decision” as your personal factor, leaving no room for refunds.
So, even if you think the agency didn’t perform well, the contract clearly states that as long as there is an admission result, the agency’s service is considered fulfilled. When you try to inquire about the possibility of supplementary admissions, they will politely tell you that you can ask them questions and they will “provide additional responses free of charge.”
Is it possible that after paying such exorbitant fees for international high school tuition and agency services, you are greeted with such outcomes? Where did things go wrong?
Perhaps, these issues had early foreshadowing—when teachers declared, “You have no future if you do things like this,” refusing to allow the things I wanted to pursue, it stemmed from their lack of trust in me.
When the agency teachers, under the guise of doing what’s best for me, began to dictate my life and activity schedules, I keenly felt their lack of understanding toward me and the way I approach learning and life.
They never truly believed from the bottom of their hearts that I was a capable student who could manage my own affairs. Yet, they still required me to perform like an exemplary student, creating a paradoxical situation—
If teachers don’t initially give students enough trust and respect, and students don’t trust teachers and their harsh judgments, how can they become the “good students” in the eyes of teachers?
However, they weren’t wrong either. So, at that time, I was left speechless.
The disagreements between us don’t necessarily have a right or wrong side. It’s more like what a mentor described—an ideological difference between different individuals.
And this difference in mindset, even if you invest a significant amount of time, money, and effort, doesn’t necessarily resolve such conflicts. Everyone has their reasons, and everyone believes they are right.
For example, the act of resume-building, which teachers consider extremely important, is something I can’t comprehend if it’s done solely for the sake of a visually appealing resume—
If I didn’t have the initial enthusiasm and passion for these activities, how could I maintain consistent perseverance, resilience, and creativity in the face of daily challenges and bottlenecks? When there is no external support, do we still possess intrinsic motivation to strive for it?
I know this isn’t a simple binary choice between being a compliant child or being oneself.
With better guidance and parental support, the seventeen or eighteen-year-old me would have found better ways to handle the situation, rather than obediently complying and then erupting in resistance.
My Ideal Teacher
At a time when I had almost lost all confidence in myself, the teachers at my school gave me a lot of encouragement.
I believe that students are the best judges of character, especially when it comes to “rebellious youth” in the eyes of some teachers. They can quickly discern who deserves their respect.
What kind of teachers do I respect?
In their view, learning and life are meant to be self-directed, and they only play the role of a facilitator, ready to be questioned.
Whenever I had any viewpoints and shared them with my favorite humanities and social sciences teacher, he would attentively and patiently listen to me with a supportive expression. I always scored top marks in his class.
He knew that although I occasionally drifted off in class, I often contemplated the concepts mentioned in the subject outside the classroom. What is “power”? What is the “balance of power”? And how do they apply to real-life situations?
For example, what is the power structure in my family? What “hard power” and “soft power” do I possess? Are the theories in books always right? Could they be outdated or fail to capture the full meaning?
In certain subjects, I may not have achieved a perfect score, but my teacher emphasized that it does not imply a lack of effort or dedication on my part. I demonstrated genuine commitment and thoughtful engagement, yet it was evident that I lacked a natural aptitude for that particular discipline.
The teacher also appreciated my active participation in class discussions and even organized a special meeting just for me, awarding me an extra point (out of a maximum of 7). She emphasized, “Exams do not define who you are, and scores are only temporary. Your identity goes far beyond a number.”
Despite facing skepticism from intermediaries in the past, I actively pursued the activities I was once questioned about, and they turned out to be successful endeavors.
I launched non-profit camps, online courses, and webinars, all of which received a positive response and provided assistance to numerous individuals.
During this process, I delved into pioneering knowledge and books on gender and identity freedom, such as Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own” and Beauvoir’s “The Second Sex.” I even ventured into interdisciplinary collaborations, exploring feminism in Shakespearean dramas with friends from different fields.
As a student, I gradually realized that education can bestow upon individuals the most beautiful gifts – unwavering self-confidence and an insatiable curiosity.
For instance, seemingly impractical activities can prove to be highly valuable. Engaging in sports, meditation, painting, or writing can enhance the vibrancy of the prefrontal cortex, responsible for creativity, focus, and positive perception, while simultaneously reducing the size of the amygdala, which triggers fear responses.
The true essence of teaching lies not in the intricacy of the curriculum or the expertise of the instructor, but rather in the preservation of joy, according to my teacher.
Subsequently, I embarked on learning various disciplines like Kendo, Tango, Guqin (ancient Chinese zither), and hand drumming. None of these pursuits were driven by the pursuit of professionalism or accolades. They simply provided a source of amusement on rainy days, allowing me to engage in friendly umbrella duels.
Furthermore, quality education stems from recognition. As I gradually gained acceptance through emulating my teacher’s approval, I began to recognize and appreciate myself. Perhaps, like a delicate vase admired for its beauty and requiring meticulous care, I did not wish to be merely an object appreciated solely for external merits and selectively rewarded.
In contrast to a vase displayed in a store, I might still be an imperfect and flawed pottery piece, clumsily molded and yet to take its final shape.
If my advisors had embraced my authentic self from the beginning, assuring me of my capabilities, and encouraging me to explore and grow at my own pace, I can guarantee that both the college application outcomes and personal development experiences would have been far more splendid than they are now.