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Inside the Most Toxic Community for High School Students on the Internet
July 6, 2024

Inside the Most Toxic Community for High School Students on the Internet

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Want to See Your Chances of Going to an Ivy League School? Here’s a Painful Way to Find Out., ‘I hope you die.’, Ivy league: Inside the subreddit that predicts your chances of getting into top schools.

‘Female, Caucasian, FL, medium-sized public high school, middle class.’ A description like this starts almost every post in the subreddit r/ChanceMe. The demographic one-liner is usually followed by a cryptic string of letters and numbers like ‘ACT: 31 4.651w/4.000u; 2/317’ and lists of schools labeled ‘Safety,’ ‘Match,’ and ‘Reach.’ Finally, posts typically end with a variation of the same two words: ‘Chance me.’ For the average Reddit user (and, really, everyone else), these numbers and words don’t mean much—but to thousands of high schoolers applying to college this year, they are everything.

The subreddit, which has more than 100,000 members, allows prospective college applicants to crowdsource their chances of acceptance at a college based on their ‘statistics.’ Students will post anonymous mini-résumés highlighting awards, extracurriculars, and coursework, and open themselves up to discussions from subreddit members on how likely they are to be admitted. There’s no hard rubric, standard, or measurable of someone’s chances. It is strictly based on vibes.

One of the moderators of the subreddit told me that r/ChanceMe was ‘initially created to get toxic chance-me’s and associated users off of r/A2C,’ referring to the million-member subreddit r/ApplyingToCollege. However, the newly created sub wound up becoming one of the most toxic online rabbit holes for prospective college applicants. Inside the forum, which churns out posts every minute, what students thought was a collective of hopeful peers has become a counterproductive ‘brain rot.’

There’s a deluge of self-deprecation, with posts with titles like ‘Chance A Rising Senior (I might be hopeless),‘ ‘Chance Me a mediocre,’ ‘Chance a below average Indian girl,’ and ‘Tell me how bad my odds are for MIT lol.’ Many posts encourage ‘ruthless‘ and ‘brutally honest‘ comments even though ‘it does hurt,’ resulting in a positive feedback loop of vicious negativity.

Mainstream conversations about the college admissions process have long pointed to the accessibility gap that first-generation and low-income students face navigating the admissions process at a coveted Top 20 (T20) university. However, climbing the academic ladder remains a privilege stalemate. For many students, acceptance to one of these schools feels like it depends on a back-door entrance that they don’t have the keys to.

‘I’m super anxious—I fear that I will not end up at the colleges I wish to be, and be a disappointment to my surroundings,’ Dana, a rising high school senior from California who is using a pseudonym to protect her identity, told me. ‘I’m confused about the whole application.’

Online forums like r/ChanceMe introduced themselves as the answer to the gap; students have flocked to an opportunity to have their questions answered and a look into the playing field that might await them in the admissions room. What they often find instead is a nest of vipers waiting to bite them and tear apart their entire academic and extracurricular lives.

They’re compared against one another. They’re deconstructed inch by inch. They have their test scores degraded, sports and activities critiqued, and even their mere hopes of entering a top school mocked. Moreover, they’re given a chance to do all of it themselves by taking a look at other users.

‘It’s really nerve-racking because you go online looking for advice on how to write essays and you see students your age doing Science Olympiads and starting nonprofits,’ Tobi, a rising senior from Texas, told me. ‘And you’ve never heard of a Science Olympiad before, or of any Olympiad. You don’t know what an Olympiad looks like.’

Chloe, a rising high school senior, told me she regrets posting to the subreddit after she asked about her chances of getting into her dream school, Columbia. In a now-deleted r/ChanceMe post, she explained losing out on her dream of being a recruited athlete after being concussed last year and receiving a B in her calculus class due to her piano teacher’s death and personal grief.

However, she quickly realized that members were less concerned with the context of her academics and more with attacking her directly. ‘There were just hordes of people coming on and being like, ‘You write really awfully,’ ‘Not concise and super scatterbrained,’ ‘Your PSAT score is shit,’ ‘You’re not going to get into Columbia,’ ‘Your extracurriculars aren’t good enough,’ ‘Your test scores aren’t good enough,’ ‘ she said.

Others who went on the forum thinking their academics would be praised were shocked at the backlash that came with an index-card projection of them. Even with the toxic comments and community, and with the fear of the unknown status update on decision day, many high schoolers would rather bear criticism now than be shocked at the face of rejection in May.

‘It feels better to have poor-quality answers than no answers at all,’ Nafeesa, a senior from Virginia, told me. She posted because she was ‘uncomfortable with waiting for the future’; these students do what they can to get answers sooner.

Another chunk of members have accepted the forum to represent a seesaw of soul-crushing commentary versus unwarranted ego boosts. One student told me she believes that the sub pushes a ‘one size fits all’ mindset of the college admissions process which is fueled by users who ‘lie for validation,’ exacerbating the anxiety of the average applicant.

There’s a bit of survivorship bias, too, that skews the data even more. After all, many users wouldn’t post on these subreddits if they didn’t feel like they had a strong résumé already. This can result in prospective students feeling even more inadequate than they already did—even if their academics and extracurriculars are actually fine.

r/ChanceMe is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to college application subreddits, too. Communities like r/SAT, which has nearly half a million members, and r/CollegeResults, which has seniors wondering if they got into the college of their choice even after submitting applications, harbor similar sentiments—and the anxiety doesn’t vanish once students log off.

Between scrolling for hours online and competing against peers for ranks and scholarships, it feels like there is no relief for students. When it’s coupled with a community that’s essentially a breeding ground for toxicity and criticism, it becomes completely overwhelming. ‘Online platforms exacerbate the toxicity we already experience in our teen life; it’s hard,’ Dana said.

As these hopeful and not-so-hopeful high schoolers near the admissions process in August, they wonder if the experience will ever allow them to create a community of like-minded teens without the constant comparison—or if competitive application cycles will only make this harder as the years progress.

The 2023–2024 admissions cycle saw more applications than ever before, with the number of college applicants increasing by 6 percent, according to a March Common App report. In turn, admittance rates have also hit record lows, especially at competitive universities like Duke, Rice, and Yale. This creates an environment of hypercompetitiveness among high school students vying for admission.

Lucy, who has been accepted to Northwestern University’s class of 2028, told me how she lived on r/A2C for years before her application. At the end of her application season, Lucy took to r/A2C to make a post on her acceptance, as a sort of goodbye to the forum. The post, which was meant to be sentimental, was taken down by moderators after it reached over 70,000 views and members began posting comments like ‘I hope you die.’

Looking back, Lucy recommends that students spend much less time on these subreddits—and more time valuing their own accomplishments and those of their fellow students. ‘The process itself already makes you question your self-worth a lot, and students need to be more kind to themselves and other people,’ she said.


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