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Teens share the joy, despair and anxiety of college admissions on TikTok


It's the end of March, which means high school seniors are finding out where they got in or did not get in to college. It's a stressful time, and a lot of teens are taking to the internet to share their anxiety. The college decision reaction video is a thriving genre on TikTok and YouTube - students filming themselves while they click through their online applicant portals, then filming their reactions, which range from joy...


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: I got in (laughter).

FLORIDO: ...To despair.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: I will never be good enough for you.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: I was not admitted.

FLORIDO: Jay Caspian Kang recently jumped down this internet rabbit hole and wrote about what he saw for The New Yorker. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

JAY CASPIAN KANG: Hey. How's it going?

FLORIDO: Fine. Thanks for coming on. You know, you can find almost anything on TikTok these days. What was it about these short little videos, though, that caught your attention?

KANG: Well, I think that it was mostly my curiosity about why anybody would want to share this, right? Like, I understand why somebody would want to broadcast that they got into a bunch of great colleges, but that only seems to be a small portion of these videos, at least the ones that go viral. What seems much more popular and somewhat concerning are the videos where kids click through and they get a little pop-up that tells them whether they got in or not, and it tells them, nope, you know, you're not going. You can see, like, sort of the disappointment, and then they decide to broadcast that everywhere, and so I found that behavior to be really interesting.

FLORIDO: Why are high schoolers posting these things? I mean, is it because, you know, kids post everything these days, or is there something deeper going on here?

KANG: Well, I can't speak for teenagers - right? - in general, but I think what is happening is that there is a desire for commiseration, so I think that's the first part of it, but the second part of it, I think, relates to how a lot of social media works, which is that negative things tend to go much more viral than things that are positive.

FLORIDO: You also seem to suggest that these videos and kids' reactions to them are sort of giving us new insight into the racial resentments that are often bred by the college admissions process.

KANG: Right, and this really only applies to the elite schools. I'm talking about, like, Harvard or UCLA or whatever. Because these kids all seem to have the same stats like GPA, SAT scores, extracurriculars, the real question underneath all of this is, why didn't I get in? What else do I have to do to get in? That a lot of the commentary in the comment sections is if you're not Black or Latino, you're not going to get into these schools. One thing that I noticed was that a lot of the people who post this, in a very disproportionate number, are Asian American applicants, and that these are kids who have been told - I think a lot of them - their entire lives that these colleges don't want you. They see things like the Harvard affirmative action case, and those suspicions are confirmed or at least deepened in a lot of ways. And I think that what they're working out here is just sort of sharing, hey. Look. Here's more proof that this thing that we think is true is actually true. It happened to me as well.

FLORIDO: Do you see anything positive about these videos?

KANG: Some of them are pretty funny. Some people have a good sense of humor about being rejected from a lot of schools, but it is concerning in just showing the level of anxiety. Now, as long as the system of exclusive education that we have where people are very convinced that there are small number of winners and that everybody else is a loser persists, that this type of stuff will only get worse.

FLORIDO: Jay Caspian Kang is a staff writer at The New Yorker. You can read more in his piece, "The Particular Misery Of College Admissions TikTok." Thanks, Jay.

KANG: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.