My First Argument

Filed Under: Blog

By Hojoon Sung

A young man wearing glasses and a coat, smiling.

The first argument I had with my mother took place at what would become my favorite cafe in the city. There, sitting by the window with the sun streaming in, my laptop’s screen split with light, it began:

“So, Mom, I’ve found this new college.”

“Mm?” Her eyes perked up from her own laptop. She had her head canted in that way that always scared me, the light from her screen making her shadows seem even longer and darker. 

“What is it?” she asked.

“Pitzer.” I paused. “Pitzer College,” I quickly added.

After a moment, she looked up at the ceiling, as though contemplating the idea. 

“What rank is it?” she said finally.

“I think it’s… I know it’s thirty-something.”

Her face suddenly grew tense. 

“I don’t like it. I don’t want you to go to a liberal arts college if it’s not top five.” Her eyes darted to the counter, where a barista stood steaming milk with a loud sucking noise. They flicked back to me. “What do you like about it?”

“Well, it’s a part of the Claremont colleges and they have a higher acceptance rate–”

“Claremont colleges are only good if you go to Pomona, or, what was it, Harvey Mudd,” she said, exasperated. Her eyes strayed again. “What are they known for?”

I could feel my annoyance growing, my patience thinning with every moment she avoided my gaze when she spoke. 

“I’m… I’m not sure. I think they’re just an all-around good liberal arts school.” 

Mom sighed.

“If you really want to go to a liberal arts school,” she said, slowly. “You should apply to Amherst, or Pomona, or–”

“That’s what you want!” I snapped. 

She lifted her chin. Her eyes wavered, then hardened. 

For a moment, I felt afraid that I had stepped too far, but the anger and stubbornness boiled up all at once inside me and I stood my ground.

“All because you don’t like it doesn’t mean it’s wrong.” I glowered at Mom, and she glowered back. Outside, the sun still shone, splitting my screen like me and Mom, mother and son, each alone on their journey to understanding.


I’ve had time to reflect on, and research, this moment, and though anticlimactic, I ultimately cannot blame either myself or my mom. 

College admissions can be one of the most stressful periods of people’s lives, and arguments like mine are inevitable. Was I wrong to question my mother’s judgment? No. But was my mom wrong about top five liberal arts colleges? Not necessarily.

Today, too many college researchers – parents and students alike – fall into the trap of college rankings. Online, there are dozens of websites that sport their own, slightly different, versions of the top 50 or 100 colleges. However, few websites provide clear criteria for how they decide their rankings. Some, like the U.S. News & World Report, have even been accused of discriminating against certain schools, causing some schools like the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) to boycott the rankings. 

However, college rankings aren’t always bad. The top five universities for most websites are usually very similar, and they often coincide with the highest post-graduation salaries and job-placement rates. For example, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is ranked #2 by U.S. News & World Report for national universities and #2 by Forbes for highest average post-graduation salary. These websites also provide other important information like average need-based scholarships and class sizes. As inaccurate as college rankings are hailed to be, they do admittedly have their merits.

From a personal standpoint, I’ve found college rankings to be repetitive, and not very helpful. After all, colleges don’t guarantee successful futures – the Worcester Polytechnic Institute is ranked #82 by U.S. News & World Report but has the 14th highest average post-graduation salary in the nation. For me and many others, college is about individual proactivity and learning from others as much as it is prestige.

Ultimately, whether to use college rankings is up to you. They can help simplify the vastly complicated process of college admissions, but they can also be a source of stress, and result in arguments like between me and my mom. Just try to find empathy: you, your parents, and whomever else you may be working with are all experiencing the same stress. 

Maybe, instead of fighting, just get yourself a coffee, and enjoy its rich, bittersweetness.



Hojoon is a 2023-24 Ready WA Storyteller and a senior in Bellevue Public Schools.