Photo by Zoe Fortuna
"Did you hear about how she got rejected from Columbia? I mean, she's not even a valedictorian candidate, so it's whatever. Do you know what extracurriculars she does?"
Oh my god, please, stop the chaos.
With Regular Decision admissions starting to come out, I assume all of us college-bound seniors feel the intensity of getting into a good school. I know I do, and I am highly skeptical of those who act unfazed. To any college admissions employees, yes, your decisions make me stressed. Your decisions make all of us stressed.
I attend a privileged, overachieving high school, in which a majority of our graduating class has invested in a ridiculously overpriced college counselor. Everyday I hear the drone of, "So my SAT score is only a 2210, which means I'm at Stanford's average, but then I'm five points below Columbia's average." Followed by, "My brother's friend's dad is a Dartmouth admissions counsellor and he said my GPA was acceptable."
I recently went through a mid-college application process crisis. It started off with wondering, "Maybe I should've applied to early decision." Then it was Googling, "Brown's average SAT." Then it became, "Oh my god, I totally should've studied harder for the SAT and I should've volunteered more my sophomore year and I am never going to get in anywhere."
I'm a little dramatic.
In all honesty though, a mailbox full of rejection letters scares me. A lot. To know that I have sacrificed sleep, and at times happiness, for an acceptance that doesn't come. To know that I tried my best, and that just wasn't enough.
This anxiety hits every college-bound student, but it's one that hits deep. We all make jokes about creating a Facebook group to post our rejection letters, but those failures are our worst nightmares.
I recently mused to one of my friends that college applications have only made the annoying and competitive people of our grade even more annoying and competitive, and it is so achingly true. I've had classmates call me their "competition" and demand to know my extracurriculars to ensure they were ahead. My school has become a bloodthirsty battle ground where compassion has been thrown away for downright pettiness.
Yes, getting into a good college is important, and I am applying to some high-achieving schools. I care about my personal success, but not to the extent of disregarding other people's feelings. When has it become okay to sacrifice basic human kindness for an acceptance letter?
If you want to talk college, go for it. It's what's on all of our minds anyways, so get it all out. I won't judge. But please, realize that there is so much more to life than getting into Stanford. Your peers are more than their SAT scores and leadership in clubs. Success is not a defined path. People with passion for their studies are the real trailblazers, not those who will create an excel sheet with everyone's test scores to scope out the competition.
If there is one thing I genuinely love about this whole process, it is the unprecedented support I have gotten from my classmates -- people being brought together by a shared anxiety and a belief in one another to achieve amazing things. We will drop anything to listen to you rant. We recognize your individuality and how crippling this experience is because we’re going through it ourselves.
Regardless of what happens in the next couple weeks, I am proud that I stayed true to myself despite the academic pressure. I long for college acceptance, but I refuse to give up basic decency in the process. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter if I get into Columbia if I'm not a good person. If I'm not a thoughtful friend, a supportive classmate, and a caring human being.
Academic success is not a substitute for happiness.
At times, that expectation of success is genuinely crippling. My peers with almost perfect test scores and achievements that make mine pale in comparison. College forums with high schoolers boasting their impressive resumes yet still getting rejected. The constant chatter of scrutinizing other students for the sake of self-reassurance. It's nearly impossible to escape the pitfalls of comparison when you are fully immersed in that academic culture everyday.
A message to anyone feeling stressed, but especially to myself: you are capable of doing great things regardless of your college acceptance. If you pursue your passion with determination, you will emerge victorious. The inevitability of failure is terrifying, but what matters is how you react to that failure.
College applications have taught me a couple things. First of all, Northwestern has a Lipstick Theatre club that combines feminism and storytelling, which is pretty badass (although you did reject me, and it’s not like I totally would’ve written great women’s empowerment plays). Discovered through a supplemental prompt, the title of my life story would be "Modern-Day Mulan: Without the War and only some of the Wit." Watching YouTube videos of people opening up their rejection/acceptance letters is terrible pastime and not healthy.
More importantly though, defeat does not define me. I will not be contained, but motivated by my setbacks. I am just a college-bound girl with success on the horizon. So yeah, to my inevitable rejection letters, take that.