It was my senior year in high school and it would be an understatement to say that I was ill prepared for the college application process. I was a good student, but like many of us, I never really grasped how my high school career would impact the rest of my life. From the SATs to the actual application, I was floundering through. I took the SATs as if it were just any other exam like the annual TerraNova exam. I didn’t realize how much really rested on this one exam. The SATs would decide what college I went to, the people I would be interacting with, the educational level I would receive, and ultimately, the jobs I would be offered.
I had misunderstood the entire college application process itself. I was oblivious to the steps, the applications, the essays, and essentially the entire process. It was a mess and ultimately the lack of knowledge on how to attack the applications, the lack of focus on the SATs, and the relaxed attitude in regards to GPA, left me haphazardly prepared for the application process. Regrettably, I am not an exceptional case. My story is just one of millions of Muslims within the United States. Parents, school faculty, and guidance counselors want the best for students, but when the process to apply isn’t properly understood, students will not achieve their full potential. This translates into the following: mismatched college choices, students paying way more than they should for college, students majoring in the wrong subjects, and ultimately, the jobs students receive.
Of course, there is always room to excel regardless of the college you attend, but it would be silly to discredit the importance of getting into a top school. For example, a graduate from an Ivy League school with just a bachelor’s degree tends to receive much better job offers in terms of quality, salary, and prestige, in comparison to a state or non-ivy school graduate. It is an investment in the student’s future for not only themselves, but for their family as well.
The lack of urgency we as a community have in regards to things as simple as the SATs is alarming and regrettable. Our students are brilliant and have the capacity to excel well beyond their means, but the problem is that we do not show them why or how they can excel. We do not explain to them the importance of exams like the SATs. We tell them to study and we think our job ends there. The reality is that we have committed a grave injustice by not showing our students the real benefits of doing well in school. The lifestyle, networking opportunities, and quality of education are all the fruits of attending a top school. Our objective should not be that all our students attend Ivy League schools, but that each one of our students try their hardest and reach their maximum potential.
The Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him), taught us to aim for the best and have ihsaan (excellence) in everything that we do. This is a tradition that we must instill in our students, so that they can rest assured that they did their very best. Education is an Islamic obligation and a Prophetic tradition. The benefits of seeking knowledge are immense. As the Prophet ﷺ informs us, the one who seeks knowledge is honored by the rest of creations, because of their high stature in the eyes of Allah (Abu Dawud, 1631). Our students need to understand that doing well in school is a form of worship and is in fact an Islamic obligation.
We as a community need to start taking education in this country seriously. We need to prepare our students properly for college so that when they graduate and enter the real world, they can excel. And when our students excel, our communities will thrive inshaAllah (God willing).