Contemplating College: Perspectives from a BHS Senior
It is 1:18 in the morning. I am kept awake by the sense of urgency to right my past wrongs. I know I did not write enough articles as a student School Buzz reporter this year. I know that my lack of articles is because I prefer writing my stream of consciousness rather than chasing a story, conducting an interview, and convincing a reluctant teenager to be in a low-quality photo. I gave in to my aversions and must now face the shame of journalistic underachievement.
So here I am, typing away at my computer, hoping that faithful readers of the School Buzz (or whoever you may be) will set aside expectations of exciting school updates and instead embrace the ramblings and crazed stylings of a sleep-deprived high school senior.
I am underwhelmed by the college admissions process. I have spent hundreds of hours of my life crafting my Common App essay, debating which schools to apply to, contemplating a major, panicking over my general lack of direction, recovering from the depths of existential dread, and then writing college-specific essays that humbly allude to my intellectual prowess while highlighting my leadership roles and small, yet profound role in transforming our wee planet.
The last thing I want is to sound ungrateful. I am thrilled about the schools I received admission to (I sobbed when I got my acceptances and was in the throes of excitement-fueled hyperactivity after I committed to a school). I pursued activities I love because I loved them, with the bonus (rather than motivation) that prospective colleges might approve. Despite my virtue and happy success, I feel jaded about the application/acceptance/rejection/waitlist transaction.
Once, while talking to a beloved English teacher about my angst over choosing a college, I posited, “Well it’s not like I am selling my soul to the school I decide to go to.” While I believe my soul remains intact and safely within the confines of my corporeal being, I am certain that roughly $75 has already gone to ten universities, one of which will be the lucky recipient of an additional $85,866 more per year. I am paying to go to a school that accepted me in the hope that I will bring their institution glory and attract other applicants who will follow my example. It is a cycle of application, education, graduation, and glory that keeps universities funded and will supposedly enhance my experience in this absurd experience that is life.
During a rather cheerful conversation about choosing a college with my father, he gave me sage advice that reminded me that I truly am his daughter; “Life isn’t a race," he told me. "We all die someday. You should choose a college that will make the journey to death the most fulfilling."
I would be wrong to leave out that I briefly did not want to attend college at all. Overwhelmed by deciding where to go, I concluded that I actually did not want to attend college and was just blindly taking the next step in life without regard for my true desires. I considered enlisting in a foreign military. I pondered enlisting in the United States military. I entertained the idea of taking a gap year. I contemplated doing absolutely nothing.
Then I remembered some essential things. I do not run or exercise on command. I am about as desirable to the armed forces as a serum-less Steve Rogers. I get major FOMO (fear of missing out) just thinking about abandoning the Class of 2026 for the Class of 2027. I would fall deep into self-pity and dread with nothing but time on my hands. To the surprise of absolutely no one, I settled on college as the most fitting option.
It pains me to think about how much I stressed and sobbed, fearful of imperfect grades and the college application and decision process as a whole, only to arrive at an admitted students day to be told that it wouldn’t have mattered if I had gotten a B or taken fewer APs. It pains me to think that plenty of my peers spent high school gaming the system, and like me, realized that a college acceptance (while exciting) was not the transformative moment of validation that we had hyped it up to be.
The emotional toll - and soon to be financial toll - of this whole rigamarole has made me realize how important it is that I seize every opportunity presented to me at college. I am quite literally buying into society's idea of success, buying into the concept of elite American universities, buying into the narrative that a name brand will pay off on the other side. I owe it to my past (and future debt-ridden) self to learn and enjoy as much as loans can buy.
The college decision process was grueling, and it often felt like I was part of a slimy financial scheme that would secure my place as a future pencil pusher. But it also reminded me that I would be much less happy if I didn’t have my pick of educational opportunities or if I had lacked the crucial support from family, friends, and teachers along the way.
For those of you who have yet to make your Common App (or Coalition or Questbridge) account, take advantage of high school. Find passions rather than obligations. Study and engage and try your best to care about the material you are learning, no matter how useless and tedious it may seem. High school is not a checklist of things to accomplish to get into college. It is not the academic purgatory on the way to higher-level education. Rather, (public) high school is a free opportunity for personal and intellectual development and self-discovery. If you do not embrace the inherent value of this four-year journey, then the college admissions process (and the four years that follow it) will be even bleaker than the pessimistic verbal landscape that I have painted.
A brief postscript: In case you are worried about my academic future, I am very excited to go to college where I am sure to discover more things to complain about (which I evidently enjoy sharing) and even more things to enjoy (which I will undoubtedly keep to myself).
Editor's note: Find out where members of the Class of 2022 are heading next here.
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