"Take it all one day at a time and enjoy the journey." — Kristi Barlett
Living in the age wherein middle schoolers— sometimes even elementary students— already spend their days anxiously discussing the colleges they believe will let them hit the ground running in regard to their dream career paths, it is clear that most, if not all, are aware of the pressures and struggles that come with building up a profile admissions officers will love. It really is no help that college acceptance rates are declining— and declining quickly, might I add.
I am definitely no stranger when it comes to pushing myself to take the classes and pursue the activities I didn’t really want to, just because I knew doing so would look great on paper, so I can confidently tell you that at some point, it’s going to get so bad and so toxic that it starts taking a toll on your mental health, and you no longer find yourself worthy of that “Congratulations!” on the admissions portal. While that last part may have made some of you gasp, it’s definitely true. Take it from someone who has had her dream college set in stone since the fourth grade and has spent countless hours obsessing over how to get into it.
It took me quite a while, but once I changed my perspectives on college and how to approach the application process, I found myself so much happier and so much more fulfilled than I had ever been. I’m sure there are many people out there who share my previous mindset, so in the hopes of helping them realize what I did in much less time than it took me, I’ve written this short article that explains my thoughts.
1. College is what you make of it
"We are not given a good or a bad life. We are given a life. It’s up to us to make it good or bad." — Devika Fernando
Before discussing the toxicity of the process, we should discuss the toxicity of the goal itself. Our own mindsets being the very culprits in what ruined a perfectly good college experience can manifest in two ways: one, that we believe failing to get into our dream college is the end of the world; and two, that we refuse to let go of that overly-romanticized view of the perfect university experience.
First, the Dream College (with capital letters, of course, since, to those who have one, it’s more or less a proper noun in itself). Whether you’re quiet and sweet like Rory Gilmore or bold and scheming like Blair Waldorf, most people have that one institution whose website they can’t help but return to repeatedly or whose pennants they stick up on their walls and stare at with ferocious intensity. Unfortunately, many people never end up getting into that university. Dream Colleges usually accept only about 5% to 25% of their applicants, leaving the other 75% to 95% heartbroken and feeling as if they can’t enjoy college if they’re not attending that very one. It’s understandable to be upset if you see the words “We regret to inform you…” when you know you deserved a “Congratulations!”, but you shouldn’t let that ruin how you experience the unquestionably amazing institution you end up attending. Not getting into your dream school does not mean that you weren’t good enough— it means that you were meant to be outstandingly you somewhere else.
Second, the romanticized outlook. “The best four years of your life,” people often say. We plan to walk in there, head held high and ready for all the iconic parties and lifelong friendships, thinking the made-for-the-movies romances Hollywood promised would be waiting for us, so when those things don’t come to us easily and immediately, we’re left absolutely devastated. However, you need to know that if it’s Friday night, and you’ve got no other plans but to lay in bed alone with a book, or if it’s been a semester, and you still haven’t found a second home in the most unlikely group of people possible, it’s okay. No matter how much you try, college will not pan out exactly as you planned. But isn’t that what makes it so exciting?
Basically, when you arrive at the campus you’ll spend the next four years exploring and calling home, you have two decisions to make. First, will you spend it absolutely miserable, ignoring everything around you in favor of mourning a place that couldn’t see how spectacular you are, or will you get up and show yourself and everyone around you that you can thrive anytime, anywhere? And second, will you let what could have been an amazing experience be ruined by unrealistic expectations, or will you embrace the unexpected and just live in the moment?
2. It’s all about you
"Nothing is as important as passion. No matter what you want to do with your life, be passionate." — Jon Bon Jovi
When planning out our classes and activities, it’s so common for us to wonder what an admissions officer would like to see there. The problem with this, then, is that our resume doesn’t reflect us— it reflects a fake mold set by everybody but ourselves. If we take this route, we will never feel enough.
High school should be less about creating an "impressive" facade and more about finding and enhancing things you actually like to do. Your passions should never be inconveniences that you need to hide underneath layers and layers of bland, meaningless pursuits. The well-rounded applicant hasn’t been something colleges have looked for in a while now. They don’t want someone only slightly involved in the debate club, the cooking club, the football team, and the choir. They want you to stand out amongst the applicant pool, and the way to do that is by creating a spike, or one to two areas you excel in. Find your passion and do everything in your power to tell colleges that that is what you love doing, and you’re not ashamed of it.
3. Opportunities can always be found or made
“Don’t settle for what life gives you; make life better and build something.” — Ashton Kutcher
If you’re like me, and you live in a state or a country wherein opportunities to pursue your passions aren’t as available as they are in other areas, or if you possess an interest so rare that no place at all seems to be able to provide for it, remember that there is never nothing you can do.
The internet is full of suggestions. If you enjoy neuroscience, find a professional you can intern for or shadow. If you enjoy Russian literature, start an online blog to share your thoughts on your favorite works. If you enjoy tap dancing, go down to the nearest charity centre to teach others and organize a show! And if you can’t seem to find a single opportunity, making one may be even so much better. In life, things aren't always going to be ready-made and handed to you, and, after all, you’re here to stand out and be different.
There is an undeniable difference between planning for the future and living in it. The former is smart and responsible; the latter is just plain waste. I deeply apologize for the cliché, but don't spend so much time thinking about college and the future that you forget to live in the present. That, I believe, is the central idea of this whole article: everything on your resume should come together to prove that even a decision as big and serious as your university and your career could never take away from the fact that you're alive, you're passionate, and you definitely don't plan on stopping once you've stepped foot on their campus.