College Wake-Up Call

    Exhaustive psychological and sociological research in the field of higher education has recently led many professors and experts to a seemingly obvious conclusion — a large number of students think they are more gifted and special than they really are.

    Christina Aushana/Guardian

    In “Ignorant of Their Ignorance,”” author Shari Wilson (a pseudonym) discussed the inability of college students to objectively gauge their own academic performance. Wilson, a professor of undergraduate English who writes the column “Nomad Scholar,”” explained that none of her students who labeled themselves “overachievers”” in an informal class poll were in fact living up to that standard as of her midterm exam.

    Looking at the big picture for a moment: Is this in any way surprising? Can the educational system, let alone society as a whole, realistically expect Americans to be able to realize when they’re in over their heads?

    In her article, Wilson referenced a 2000 study in the Journal of Educational Psychology that suggested low-performing students often have problems with overconfidence. However, it would be erroneous to ignore the fact that even average- to high-performing students at the university level often deal with this same problem. UCSD students are no exception to this — data from the 2003 UC Undergraduate Experience Survey report reflects that about 75 percent of incoming students referred to themselves as “above average”” or within the top 10 percent in overall academics. It doesn’t take a UCSD-educated statistician to realize that the numbers simply do not add up.

    Why, then, does overconfidence and a lack of self-awareness create such a quandary for undergraduates? While Wilson points toward inconsistency in the quality of secondary-school education as a potential root cause, one also must consider the oft-preached message of academics that a child’s education begins at home. Correspondingly, a “you can be whatever you want to be, sweetheart”” attitude — which few can deny provides an optimistic, if somewhat unrealistic view of life — can easily stem from loving but misguided parents who don’t want to step on their bright-eyed child’s ambitions.

    It is when these inflated, eager students come face-to-face with the competitive college atmosphere that the difference between illusion and reality is most shockingly illuminated. As Wilson mentioned, one of the most frequent lamentations in response to poor college grades is,. “But I got As in high school.”” While true, Wilson argued, this is no indicator of college success — an assertion that beleaguered, sleep-deprived college students struggling to keep afloat in their studies can certainly attest to. Similarly, modern, “helicopter”” parenting — overbearing parents and guardians who are too “hands-on”” in shaping their child’s educational future — can lead to high school and even college students who are incapable of doing their own work without holding on to mommy or daddy’s hand.

    While she questioned the perceptiveness of the 14 percent of her students who labeled themselves as overachievers, Wilson also mulled over the 17 percent on the other side of the spectrum — self-professed “underachievers”” who admitted to spending little time on studying, reading and major assignments. Despite the inevitable claims that these students are an anomaly for not making the best of their expensive university education, they are nothing if not honest.

    However, there is a glimmer of hope for the student population at large, according to further UCUES statistics. While approximately 75 percent of students rated their academic performance as above average in 2003, that number has diminished from about 95 percent in 1991. While this seems to be a relatively small change considering the 12-year gap, it does reflect a gradual progression in student self-awareness over time. As competition in the college application and acceptance process has undeniably increased in those 12 years, the harsh sting of reality seems to be sinking in for students.

    Wilson’s own statistics even support this trend — the 69 percent of her students who are neither “overachievers”” nor “underachievers”” in their estimation do appear to have more of a grasp of where they fit in the bigger picture. However, this sampling might prove to be an anomaly in itself — if UC students were as honest as Wilson’s undergraduates, the UCUES numbers might look just a little less bleak.

    If nothing else, the numbers are clear: until the extra 65 percent stop attempting to squeeze themselves into the top 10 percent, students will remain unaware of their abilities, bubbles will be burst and mommy and daddy will keep receiving the earth-shattering phone calls that their children aren’t as perfect as they’ve always said.

    More to Discover
    Donate to The UCSD Guardian
    $200
    $500
    Contributed
    Our Goal

    Your donation will support the student journalists at University of California, San Diego. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment, keep printing our papers, and cover our annual website hosting costs.

    Donate to The UCSD Guardian
    $200
    $500
    Contributed
    Our Goal