I interview perspective freshmen for the University of Pennsylvania, and for the past two months I have been interviewing dozens of highly motivated high school seniors who have applied to Penn. Encompassing more than seniors, academic youth as young as ninth grade feel the pressure to get into an elite college.
Every college that accepts an applicant sends through snail mail a thick envelope that contains an acceptance letter, financial aid package and a stack of info that is intended to sell the accepted applicant on the school. Those colleges that reject or defer an applicant only send a letter—you want to receive a fat envelope in April.
High schoolers who are barely awake for a Sunday 11 a.m. service can be wide awake for a 6 a.m. interview with me at Starbucks. I tell them not to bring resumes with them, yet some still foist on me two pages of accomplishments. My resume is only one page. Too many youth are motivated almost solely by what will look good for college admissions.
The interviewer in me finds this flattering but unsettling as there are thousands of institutions where the academic high schooler can receive a wonderful undergraduate education. The pastor in me finds this dangerous.
You don't have to be Christian to understand and believe what Christ taught about idols:
"No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon" (Matt. 6:24
is the Greek word translated in many versions as "money." It is that, but mammon is more. The Greek word mammon
comes from an Aramaic word that means "that in which we put our trust." For a number of high school students, trust is in admission to a selective college.
But Jesus lived and preached a different gospel: "Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing" (Matt. 6:25
Yes, it is important to study and be diligent, to get good grades and good SAT scores. It is significant to get a good, even the best, education that one can. The hours and years of sacrifice as a youth in preparation for college are noble.
Yet you don't have to be Christian to understand and believe that the idol of fat envelopes cheapens our lives. The gospel of Jesus Christ rises above the lust to get into a selective college. We are more than fat envelopes. Jesus preaches this, I as a pastor preach this; but I as an interviewer also believe this.
Though bright and motivated, I interviewed too many high school seniors who were less interested in education or the collegiate experience and more interested in getting into a school they can tweet about. Such applicants who worship fat envelopes do not make for good college students as all the SATs, GPAs, leadership and community service efforts build up resumes, not the person.
Jesus was right when He said we are more than food, clothing and fat envelopes. Jesus would make a good undergraduate admissions officer.