It’s safe to say that applying to college is miserable for everyone.
You may be eager to get to college. It’s where you get to make new friends, study what you want, explore a new campus, and enter into “adulthood” without your parents breathing down your neck. But before we get to college, we must apply. And that process is, across the board, dreadful.
For the uninitiated, the application cycle consists of waves of anxiety that cut down your self-worth. Between SATs, ACTs, and GPAs, every applicant is reduced to a set of numbers. Alongside that algorithm, you turn in a page or two of words that are supposed to capture the human you are. You have 500 words to tell a college who you are, with a generous choice of five prompts. You get 250 to tell them how you’ll diversify their campus. And 100 words to tell them how this extracurricular changed your life.
And in every word, you’re forced to ask yourself: who am I?
But even more than that, you’re asked: Who do they want me to be?
So I sat in front of a computer screen, attempting to write my Common App essay, asking what these schools wanted from me. In the beginning, I was sitting there with the knowledge that I was valuable. I thought of myself as someone who was motivated, eager to learn and contribute to a college campus. However, as the process went on, I didn’t get the standardized test scores that I needed to get into my choice schools.
When I went to fill out the extracurricular section of the Common App, I stared at the screen, feeling as if nothing that I did could compete with my fellow applicants. I felt that colleges wanted to see me as an unwavering candidate—someone who knew what they wanted and had done everything in their life to show that to colleges. But that’s never been who I was.
As a 17-year-old applying to schools, I had no idea who I wanted to be or what “role” I wanted to play. Even if I did, I had no solid evidence to back it up, because they were most likely new revelations.
Even now, as I’m thinking about all of this, I’m immediately hit with a wave of regret.
I should have done this or that. I should have joined more clubs. I should have volunteered. I should have studied more for the SATs. I should have gotten a better grade on that test. I should have done everything. In all of these thoughts, it’s so easy to forget that it’s physically impossible to do everything.
Because during the application process, it feels as if we are expected to be everything.
We sell ourselves short of our current accomplishments as the process becomes increasingly rigorous. I know I sold myself short. That’s not to say that I regret the school that I choose, because I love my school. But I made applying to college much more unnecessarily difficult for myself.
Because choosing a college is presented like you’re choosing your life.
You have the pressure from everyone around—and more importantly, from yourself—to pick the “perfect” school to lead you on your “perfect” life to land you that “perfect” career. Maybe these things aren’t said to us specifically, but they are subconsciously drilled into our heads by our loved ones who want the best for us.
However, it was important for me to realize that choosing a college was not an end of the world decision. The college I choose does not reflect who I am. Often, people love to mention college rankings—another numerical measurement—in order to claim the prestige or level of the college. Although I fed into those stats, I have to say, respectfully, they’re bullshit. They’re just as ridiculous as are all the numbers we must use to get into college. I know we have to pay some level of attention to them, but they are an extremely flawed system.
These systems are flawed more than one reason, however. The admissions process is incredibly classist. People who are more economically well off can afford college admission counselors, which can alleviate some uncertainty in the process of choosing a college. Often these counselors can prove students with advice (or maybe more) on their applications and their essay.
These high-income applicants can also afford rigorous and expensive tutoring for their standardized tests. This is a growing problem in applications because it essentially means you can buy your admission.
Without these benefits, how could you not feel defeated?
Even with these benefits, applicants still feel defeated by the process. The application process is a twisted game, a crap shoot. It’s really an experience of self-defeat and can take a serious toll on self-esteem. So I urge those who are applying, please don’t make the application process a reflection of yourself.
You’re so much more than those numbers and those words. I guarantee that the college you choose will never be a death sentence.