“What college are you going to go to?”
I get this question almost every time I mention that I’m a junior in high school. Each time, my inward reaction is instantaneous. I can feel my insides obliterating into fine specks of sawdust, as if that person just ran a chainsaw right through my stomach and forgot to clean up the debris.
First, the question is laced with an assumption that everyone must go to college straight after high school. It seems like a testament to the United State’s obsession with roughly pushing everyone into a direction that may or may not be the correct choice for them. In reality, traditional college isn’t the only pathway after high school. There are opportunities to get a job, learn a trade, join the military, travel the world, volunteer and even attend community college. To the people who don’t want to go to college, the question is just another subtle way of shaming them for not pursuing the conventional norm. However, people must realize that spending $50,000 per year on an education and graduating with thousands of dollars in debt, only to gain little to no knowledge and experience, is a waste of money. You should base your decisions off of your abilities, limits and goals at that point of your life and not on a pre-determined pathway.
Second, the question lacks any substance when presented to someone who hasn’t even started their college applications because the future, no matter how sunny or bleak life is at that moment, is too far away to predict accurately. Furthermore, it creates an internal clash of thoughts about how to answer the question. Do you take the modest route and appear pragmatic by naming one of your safety schools or do you blurt out “Harvard” as your answer and risk creating a first impression that comes off as cocky and arrogant (because God forbid, you actually have an inkling of confidence in your abilities and optimism for the future). Or do you really break the barriers of predetermined expectations and loudly scoff at the absurdity of this question?
I personally never voice my discomfort with the question; I politely smile. Then, I proceed to rattle off a couple names of my safety schools that are easier to mention than schools, like Stanford or Harvard, which may catch my eye but have acceptance rates smaller than my bank account (spoiler: I don’t have a bank account).
In the past couple of years, it has become no secret that getting into specific colleges has become harder. The number of people applying to each college has steadily increased.
If you applied to college in 2005, you would have been compared with 22,795 other students at Harvard, but flash-forward back to the present of 2015, and you’re being compared to 37,304 students instead. The increased number of applicants can be attributed to the fact that more people are graduating from high school now; therefore, more people are applying to college. The high school drop out rate among 16 to 24 year olds declined from 10.9 percent in 2000 to 6.6 percent in 2012 according to the National Center for Education statistics. The American notion that college is indispensible in order to secure a successful future has led graduating students to feel pressured into applying to more competitive schools that have reputations of being able to lead to more prosperous futures. Also, resources like the Internet and the Common Application have made it easier for people to apply to as many as 10 to 15 schools at a time.
Standing out in a growing applicant pool has become an art that many people struggle to figure out before it’s too late.
As it becomes more difficult to get into specific schools, students look to find opportunities that will make them stand out from the crowd, whether it be finding an internship, volunteering or getting involved in a plethora of extra curriculars – of course, while also continuing to maintain a high GPA and a high SAT or ACT score
With all of these possibilities and requirements to keep in mind, sometimes we are so focused on crafting a near perfect, textbook application filled to the brink with activities and AP courses that we forget that high school is an invaluable time to make mistakes and learn more about ourselves. It’s a time to explore our interests in varying fields and gauge our interest levels in different subjects. More importantly, it’s our time to find specific interests and take the first steps to delve further into those subjects by utilizing the resources around us.
Maybe your interest doesn’t lie in becoming a doctor, and maybe taking that research internship may not be the best choice for you or for others, as it would take away that opportunity from other students who actually are interested in pursuing that field. Every single minute you waste thinking about building this “perfect” college application and taking opportunities that don’t align with your interests is a minute that could have been used to pursue your actual goals or desires. The truth is that there’s no such thing as a “perfect” college application. You could have gotten a 2400 SAT score, taken 13 AP classes, done an internship at the National Institutes of Health and gotten a perfect 4.0 unweighted GPA, and you could still be rejected by the Ivy League university of your dreams.
I’ve seen people, who have absolutely no interest in tennis, join my school’s tennis team (of which I am a member) with the sole purpose of being able to say they were on a sports team on their college application. These people bring along a lazy work ethic that deters the rest of the team from practicing to our full potential. Not only is it a waste of their time, which could be better used to pursue one of their passions, but it is also an obstacle for the other people on the team who want to improve. In any high school sport, the stress of matches and the school workload is difficult enough, and these people only hinder the rest of the team’s ability to succeed by being more of a burden than a key piece to the puzzle.
At the end of the day, obsessing over creating a “perfect” profile that rivals other applicants’ profiles forces you to base your life decisions on besting others rather than making decisions that will make you happy and make you the best person you can be. Anyone can join the race to compete for first place by building an application filled with rote activities and achievements that have lost their impressiveness over time. But sometimes the people who stand out the most are the ones who had the courage to separate themselves from the pack and take the unpaved road never traveled in order to reach their unique dream.
The other day, when I played a game of “Sorry” with my six year old cousin, I realized that preparing to apply to college is no different than playing a game of “Sorry”. For five minutes, long after I had securely won the game, I watched the little girl try to roll a six with her die so that she could move her last pink piece to the finish line. When she finally accomplished the task, she looked at me, with no hint of acceptance that I had finished five minutes before her, and said, “I won.” Sometimes, you just have to ignore the people around you, hope for the best and keep rolling your die. The important thing is not rolling a six (read: getting into a specific school), but crossing the finish line. As long as you never give up on following your dreams, you will always win.
Article by MoCo Student staff writer Anja Shahu of Walter Johnson High School