College admissions mania is nothing new to the United States. People pay tens of thousands of dollars for overpriced, stress-catering college counselors; Millions of copies of US News and World Report’s Best Colleges List are sold annually and create universal buzz; hundreds upon thousands of anxious students worldwide flood the top 50 colleges in the US with carefully-crafted, time-sensitive, stress-baiting applications. College admissions mania wracks all kind of otherwise normal teens with vigorous, chokehold-tight anxiety; some being clutched in the dark hands of the pressure as young as 12 or 13 years old. College admissions reveals a microcosm of some the most pressing issues in our society, such as classism, educational inequality, equal access for minorities, identity politics, class grooming, the line between privacy and privilege, and more of the issues that pervade our society. At young ages, students are exposed to these problems and their relation to it. Without the kind of perspective grown from experience, there is little comprehension, much anxiety, and much learning. It is both enlightening and concerning.
But let’s stop talking about the state of our national conscience, and get a little personal. As a rising senior looking at this state of affairs, I am just scared. I want to get into these top colleges, like so many Americans, because of what they represent. Success, achievement, privilege. To me, from a broken home and poor background, those attributes attract and lure me into the fantasy that these colleges offer. With their glamorous names, glitzy backgrounds (Stanford paradise anyone?), huge financial aid packages and litany of opportunities (internships, study abroad, brilliant and connected peers, great academics, esteemed professors, nice dorms and food, funding for projects, the list is endless), they are the green light at the end of the lake, the lighthouse we seek upon the horizon (overexposed literary references, the signature of the erudite). How could you not be obsessed, enchanted, entranced with the notion that this magical acceptance letter will carve you a gold-paved path to all your wildest hopes and dreams? How could you not desperately obsess, scheme, scrutinize, panic, if you are going to be the lucky 5% of college students in the nation who get to go?
Frankly, this perpetual state of stress and obsession is tiring. I am tired of billions of essays, of underestimating myself, of downplaying my strengths and successes while putting a microscope on my flaws, blowing them up. I am tired of the endless comparisons to him and her and yet another her, the disappointment that no matter what I do, I may never be enough, the fluctuating self-esteem and never-ending soundtrack of self-doubt. I am tired of passions corrupted by what some random person I have never met and will never truly know me, whether I am admitted or not, will think. As if the pressures of being a teenager shaping some sort of identity and sense of the future wasn’t enough in front of the watchful eye of peers, teachers, parents, friends and family, now you have to worry about some extraneous opinions too, based on a 2 page application. A flat sheet of paper will never capture the 3-dimensional me. A flat sheet of paper, made up of words defined by character limits, boxes, and numbers, will never capture the full, multidimensional, wonderful, complicated, oscillating, beating, beautiful, alive and real versions of anybody. It simply can’t. Especially not in a measly 650 word essay, several dry prompts, and bullet list of the past 4 years of our lives (restricted to a 150 characters, of course). I am tired of trying to pretend that it can.
Why do I define and place my self-worth on what a committee of strangers will think about the kind of person I am? Why do I think that somehow I will be anymore, or any less, of an accomplished, successful, meaningful, worthy human being based on the stamp they put on my application? Why do I think that suddenly, because I won’t be able to write “Graduate of (insert name of Fancy-Pants-Top-50-School here)” on my resumes that suddenly my dreams, goals, ambitions, dream career, dream job, dream house, dream car, dream salary, dream whatever, are suddenly out of reach? What is it about the sound of a high-class alma mater that has the power to make me feel powerless, helpless to their whims? What is it about them that gives them power over my life?
Why do I slave, analyze, scrutinize, cry, scream and agonize over 250 word and 650 word pieces of writing designed to impress, crafted to elicit awe, manufactured for acceptance? It truly taps into an unnerving part of the human psyche, our insatiable need for reassurance and external acceptance. Some of us are lucky to be effortlessly confident and self-assured. But I think those kind of values are grown into, matured over time, developed through a life ripe with both failure and success, and learning to be cooly accepting of both. That’s hard to do when the most formative times of our lives are shaped around being accepted, by someone and something. When college admissions determine our lives, shape our activities, our pastimes, our values, it becomes practically impossible to develop a true sense of self-acceptance, for there is this imposed value, this overarching theme, that you accepting yourself is not enough, and your friends, family, dog, cat, and refrigerator isn’t enough, but strangers need to like you. Admissions committees need to like you. People who will be impressed by your pedigree need to like you. Your future spouse needs to like you. Everyone who isn’t you, and people who barely know you, have to like you. Where and how am I going to figure out how to like my own damn self?
I am tired of not being okay with who I am, what I do, and where I am going. My life revolves around this. As the time comes closer to hit submit, I am wondering what exactly I am submitting myself to, and why. I want to step back and just realize that rejection is just a nine-letter word, acceptance only has three syllables, and “I love and accept myself” is the only thing I need to hear. I am still tired, I am still stressed, and I am still obsessed with where I will get in, what I will do, and if I am enough. And that’s the problem.
I accidentally poured out my heart. I will be updating more on how my journey is going soon, but just thought it would be nice to just get these feelings off my chest for a minute. Thanks for listening, and till later.