Academics / Community

The Influence of Involution on Dana Hall’s College Application

Involution refers to the phenomenon where people work harder or put in extra work, hoping to gain more benefits but instead receive the same or even less returns as before. Involution is a term more well-known in Chinese culture, but this phenomenon is also present in American culture, especially in recent years of college applications.

Imagine 10 workers in a company who each work eight hours per day and receive the same salary. Suddenly, one of the workers decides to voluntarily work an additional hour each day. The boss, seeing this person’s hard work, decides to give him a salary bonus. As other co-workers see this raise, they also start to work additional hours, and this strategy works at first. But as more and more people started to work additional hours, this 11 work hour per day became the new normal. People no longer receive any bonuses, and the worker who chose to continue to work 10 hours may even have their wages lowered because they are “slacking.” With this, a new cycle of involution starts where more and more people are working extra hours without getting the desired outcome.

High school students often choose to involute or are told to involute by their parents because they want to get into a good college or university. One of the most common way to involute in recent years is to take more AP classes and self-study for AP exams, but other methods such as retaking the SAT/ACT for multiple time for a better score, having more leadership positions, earning more competition awards, and finding summer project that offers research projects in labs are also used.

A student of the 2022 class has described, “It’s almost impossible not to [feel the pressure to involute]. Even though I don’t feel as much peer pressure at Dana, the messages I’ve received from around me, mostly on social media, constantly makes me feel that people around me are all working a lot harder — not just in academics, but also in extracurricular, sports, and summer programs — which pressures me to involuntarily take on heavier workload that would perhaps be unnecessary otherwise.”

According to Cara Hanig, Director of College Counseling, who has a total of 16 years of experience with college applications, she saw involution in practice in the 2021-2022 school year when she saw 69 independent study AP exams–which is when students take the AP exam without taking the AP course–being signed up for.

“Never had that before in my life. I’ve had two previously. I was just like what is happening?! And come to realize this [involution] is happening,” says Ms. Hanig.

Ms. Hanig doesn’t recommend students to involute, saying “involution doesn’t actually yield outcomes. The students who I’ve seen be most successful are not even the students with a bazillion APs. So we’re doing it because we’re scared, but are we doing it because it actually yields the things we want?” Involution is making students more stressed out, but often doesn’t pay back the desired results.

It is important to recognize the negative effects of involution and resist involution. Students are choosing to involute at Dana Hall because they are scared or want to receive better outcomes, but it is important to recognize how involution doesn’t actually make students more competitive during the college application process. The definition of involution shows how it is only beneficial to the first few people who do extra work, but in the end it only causes more work load with the same amount of return on the general population. 

Image Source: ZCool

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