What Lakesiders Think About College Sweatshirt Day

May 2, 2022: the sun was out, finals season was coming, and the imminent storm of college applications loomed over the juniors. But for seniors, May 2 held a particular significance — College Sweatshirt Day. 

Usually held on May 1, concurrently the enrollment deadline for most colleges in the U.S., College Sweatshirt Day is an unofficial Lakeside tradition organized by the senior class. On this day, seniors can choose to wear merchandise from the college or university they have committed to. Since May 1 was a Sunday this year, College Sweatshirt Day happened on May 2 instead. Loosely coordinated over social media, College Sweatshirt Day seemed confusing to some students who did not know about the tradition. “I wish the other grades were told about this,” remarked one freshman in the Tatler Poll, “I wore a college sweatshirt without knowing what day it was.”

Regardless of some complications, many seniors participated in College Sweatshirt Day this year. Concurring with college decision day, College Sweatshirt Day sparked discussions and a wide range of opinions about this tradition and its implications among the upper school. Curious about the thoughts of others and seeking to better understand the effects of College Sweatshirt Day, we gathered student opinions through the Tatler Poll and some good old running-around-with-a-voice-recorder-journalism. This article does not aim to provide a comprehensive answer or perfect solution, but we do hope you can use this as a starting point for discussion and reflection. The opinions below are our compilation of student opinions and do not necessarily reflect our views.

The Case In Favor 

For seniors in favor of College Sweatshirt Day, the tradition gives students an opportunity to celebrate the hard work that they and their friends have all put into the grueling college applications process. “After all the effort we’ve put into it into applications and everything, it’s nice to just be able to celebrate people and be excited for people,” says one senior during an interview. College Sweatshirt Day is treated by many seniors as the Lakeside equivalent of celebrating friends on social media through reposting people’s commitment posts and hyping friends up on Instagram stories. 

Some seniors also see College Sweatshirt Day as a chance to have more open conversations about the college process. “There’s definitely more of a stigma around sharing where you’re going at Lakeside,” explains one senior, “I see students going to public schools openly posting where they’ve committed to and reposting where their friends are going, but Lakeside students are less comfortable sharing.” College sweatshirt day thus feels like a day for the senior class, after the conclusion of the application process, to finally make open conversations and dispel the stifling suppression of college talk at Lakeside. Others are simply curious and excited about the future college journey for themselves and their friends. “I want to know who I can annoy in California,” remarks a senior in a lighthearted tone, “how else would I start a freestyle rap club with [my friend] if I didn’t know [where he’d be attending]?”

Interestingly, a significant number of pro-College Sweatshirt Day opinions come from non-senior students. The majority of this group believe that College Sweatshirt Day can provide encouragement for underclassmen as they near college applications. Out of the Tatler poll respondents who voiced their support or enjoyment of College Sweatshirt Day, 81% were underclassmen or juniors. Most cited a feeling of anticipation and reassurement. “It was cool to see the very large variety of schools our seniors this year are heading off to,” writes one sophomore, “it gives a sense of pride and something to look forward to.” Others admit that their abilities to enjoy the tradition stem from the distances between them and college applications. “As an underclassmen I LIVE for college sweatshirt day,” responded one sophomore, “But, I don’t know how excited I will be when my time comes.” Some students appreciate College Sweatshirt Day for more practical reasons. A junior writes, “I like it because I can never get the confidence to actually ask people what college they’re going to.” 

The students in favor of College Sweatshirt Day acknowledge the potential negative implications of the tradition. “I understand that it can induce stress on people when seeing their peers wearing sweatshirts [from top universities],” responds one senior, “but College Sweatshirt isn’t the root cause of this culture, and the toxicity won’t be easily dismantled even if you take College Sweatshirt Day away.” Another senior admits that one’s views towards the tradition are aligned with the outcomes of the college application process. “I am someone who’s happy where they’re going and is very satisfied with myself,” explains the senior, “but I think that perspective’s going to change if my experience was different.”

Ultimately, College Sweatshirt Day and the college application culture at Lakeside is a complicated and sometimes contradicting discussion.

The Case Against 

The biggest argument against College Sweatshirt Day is that it contributes to aspects of Lakeside college culture that perpetuates elitism and the glorification of rankings. “People look at those wearing [high-ranking school] sweatshirts differently,” writes one senior in the poll, “they talk about their accomplishments differently, which also affects the people who see these “elite” sweatshirts being treated differently.” The senior explains that “Lakeside’s, as well the rest of the world’s, culture is so based upon ranking colleges, with a ridiculous infatuation with the schools with the lowest acceptance rates. Despite platitudes to the contrary, people betray this mentality during College Sweatshirt Day.” With students only displaying the names of the schools they are committing to, the tradition reinforces the emphasis placed on titles and rankings, undermining other aspects integral to the college application experiences of seniors. “If I was wearing a more ‘prestigious’ sweatshirt, I know I would still be saying how names and rankings and acceptance rates shouldn’t matter,” says one senior during an interview, “Yet it will be distinctly different because I would be already satisfied with how the college process turned out. In a way, it would almost be easier for me to dismiss the negative aspects of college culture.” 

Another significant reason why some are against College Sweatshirt Day is how the tradition creates unhealthy comparisons. As many seniors have admitted, it is very difficult — if not impossible — to not compare themselves with other people. One senior wrote, “I will talk to you ecstatically about how much I love the college I’m going to and how awesome it is, but on College Sweatshirt Day, I felt pretty bad about it.” Another senior remarks, “while I am happy with the college I’m going to, there are many people who are not, which makes College Sweatshirt Day a day of stress, shame and feeling bad about yourself for many if not most.” 

For some seniors, College Sweatshirt Day also puts additional pressure on them. Although an optional event that is not sponsored by the school, College Sweatshirt day still pressures seniors to show up in merchandise from the schools they are committing to. “People look at you weirdly if you don’t wear a sweatshirt,” writes one senior in the poll. In addition, according to the college counseling office, May 1 does not mark the conclusion of college enrollment decisions. Some waitlist activities can go as far as June. College Sweatshirt Day’s underlying assumption that everyone has chosen a school neglects those who choose to take a gap year, not attend college, are still deciding, or are waitlisted. Additionally, some students may simply not have the time or resources to purchase a college sweatshirt. 

 Our Thoughts 

From collecting student opinions, there is a consensus that comparison can be harmful. However, very few discuss how the belief in the existence of comparisons can be misleading and harmful. It is impossible to compare the college application results of students because these outcomes are the products of a wide range of personal factors — familial backgrounds, accesses to resources, interests, personalities, etc. — and uncontrolled variables — the institutional priorities of certain colleges, the changing interests of universities based on the previous year’s admissions, etc. All of these factors make the experiences of college applications distinct for each individual student, and making comparisons without considering these nuances is an oversimplified understanding of this process. College Sweatshirt Day emphasizes the final result — which school did you get into? —  but provides few opportunities for seniors to openly talk about what happens in between. 

To address this, future organizers of College Sweatshirt Day should consider creating opportunities for seniors to talk about their experiences. For example, providing separate spaces for people who would like to celebrate/be celebrated and those who want to have more serious conversations and address negative feelings/experiences may help make College Sweatshirt Day more considerate of the different range of application experiences. 

Ultimately, College Sweatshirt Day and the college application culture at Lakeside is a complicated and sometimes contradicting discussion. Nonetheless, we hope this article will leave you with two things: there exists no definitive conclusion about whether the tradition is more good or bad, but initiating discussion and reflection may help you unravel this nuanced topic.