Why Tam’s College Culture is Toxic

By Siobhan King

As early action deadlines near for many colleges, you can practically see the stress seeping out of almost every senior at Tam. Blood pressures rise at the thought of getting your counselor letter of recommendation packet in on time. Eye bags deepen from the hours spent working on the god-forsaken supplemental essays. The words “Common App” or “UC Insight Questions” hit like little punches to your heart every time you hear them. Seniors can’t make it a day without being asked the dreaded question of what their “top school” is. 

These things aren’t unique to Tam. You can go to any high school in the country and find students struggling with these same pressures. However, Tam’s soaring expectations and judgment are distinctively present within the college-consumed student body.


The college culture at Tam is demanding, to say the least, although not in the way that one would expect. Sure, the essays and application processes are tiring and tedious, but what really takes a toll is the constant feeling that you need to impress your classmates. 

When talking with senior Avi Perl, she expressed how, while Tam students may come across as accepting in regards to other future paths besides a four-year college, there are often undertones of judgment in their words. 

“People try to act like, ‘Oh, that’s so good for you. Oh, you’re not going to school?’ or ‘You’re taking a gap 

year? That’s so great. Do what works best for 


you.’ But really there’s those undertones of ‘Are you not dedicated to school?’” Perl said. 

Students are constantly feeding off of each other’s worries and stresses. It’s like one big wheel that never stops turning. One kid’s stress amplifies another person’s stress and so on and so forth. Where does it start, though? Where is this pressure to constantly overachieve coming from? 


Emi Abe, Tam’s College and Career Specialist and Archie Williams High School graduate, believes that the pressure at Tam to follow the “normal” college path is due to outside pressure put on students. 

“It’s not like [the students] thought of it themselves. It’s a learned thing. It’s expectations from their parents, from their teachers, the community, whatever it may be,” Abe said. 


Perl shares a similar perspective to Abe, saying, “I just think it’s how kids were raised. I feel like it genuinely roots from these wealthy parents in Marin and them having these expectations for their kids, which leads to their kids having expectations for their peers.” 

Parents are always putting pressure on their children: pressure to play certain sports, take certain classes, go to certain colleges and have certain careers. But in Marin, those pressures and expectations are considerably higher than the norm. A lot of this is due to the fact that Mill Valley is an extremely affluent community. A report conducted by U.S. News and World Report states that Marin County is the third wealthiest county in California, and eighth in the country. Since so many parents have the resources to further their child’s academic or athletic abilities, this often leads to extra pressures being put on the child to live up to the standards their parents have set.

A majority of Marin parents have the money and resources to hire uber-talented, yet expensive, college counselors for their kids. They are able to hire tutors to help with SAT and ACT prep on top of those that support all the AP classes their kids are taking. Parents are able to push their kids to strive for Ivy League and private colleges because they can afford the incredibly expensive tuition. For example, Yale’s total tuition—including room, board and all other amenities—costs roughly $84,000 per year, according to Yale University. There is a certain assumption in the Tam community that every student’s family can afford these luxuries, but that is far from the truth. 

Another misconceived advantage that many students at Tam don’t actually have is having parents who allow you to explore your interests and hobbies and make choices for yourself. Not every teen has parents who welcome new hobbies or interests, or are okay with their child straying from the path that has been laid out for them. This lack of freedom only adds to the cycle of stress that is very prominent at Tam.

All I can say is that it’s okay, and sometimes more beneficial, to stop and take a breath every once in a while and reevaluate what it is that you really want. High school is four of the worst and best years of our lives. It’s a time when you’re not supposed to definitively figure out who you are, but rather get to know yourself. It’s a time for exploration and growing. Under the stifling stress of Tam college culture, students often forget that.