The Struggling Race of the Admissions Game

June 9, 2013
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One student I read about online was conducting research to find a cure for diabetes. Others had broken national records in track and field while maintaining a 4.0 GPA. The definition of a “successful” high school student had never seemed more awe inspiring, but also intimidating.
My parents raised me to believe there was a surefire way to succeed: plan ahead, earn straight A’s and commit yourself to activities you love. But a visit to at the beginning of my sophomore year damaged my confidence. Though it was supposed to be a site with information about colleges, College Confidential made me feel like I didn’t have what it took to get into a good college.
When I entered high school I promised myself I would never do something just to impress some college admissions officer. I wanted admissions officers at my dream schools like Stanford or Yale to want me at their colleges because I was able to challenge myself and explore interests that made me happy instead of filling a resume with meaningless titles.
During a club fair at the beginning of freshman year, the upperclassmen promised that Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) “would look great on the college application.” It bothered me that club members were pushing how great joining would look to colleges more than what we would do in the club. But as my friends turned in their club applications, I didn’t want to be left behind, so I also joined FBLA, Model United Nations (MUN) and National Honor Society. I justified joining the college-obsessed crowd by telling myself that as someone interested in business and law, it was good to get experience in debate, business and communications.
Luckily I ended up finding activities I genuinely liked. Competitions and afterschool rehearsals/meets filled the afternoons of my freshman and sophomore years. I loved chairing for afterschool volunteer activities and rehearsing for dance shows past dinnertime interacting with individuals who had a passion for helping out for the good of the school.
I spent my weekends at Model United Nations competing in UN mock committees. I developed such an interest in politics that I decided to intern for my state senator.
When AP testing and finals started creeping in, I struggled balancing academics with my passion for extracurricular activities. Once MUN and FBLA kicked into high-gear, I began to hate the clubs that I used to like.
One evening at the end of my sophomore year, my mom sent me a link to The “chance” forums, in which students share accomplishments while comparing chances of getting into colleges, made me feel like I wasn’t doing enough. I spend two hours staring at student profiles that featured near-perfect SAT scores, rows of 5s (top score) on AP exams, national championships in debate or compelling stories about medical missions to developing countries.
I felt like my activities weren’t as impressive.

Being one of the top outstanding delegates at a Model United Nations Conference, which I used to be really proud of, didn't seem so impressive after I read about the student who would be going to the actual United Nations in New York to present a speech on microeconomics.

Even though I felt worse about myself after every visit, I couldn't stop going to College Confidential. My interests seemed boring now-every high school has yearbook editors. But not many teens can say they published a children’s book like one student had. Within a month I was going on four to five hours a week. I couldn’t imagine how these students had enough hours in the day to accomplish so much. But they probably weren’t killing time refreshing College Confidential every five minutes.

I shared some of my insecurities with some of my friends but mostly my mom. My friends laughed and told me that senioritis was simply kicking in early for me. However, my mother reminded me that I’ve always worked hard and that it’d be a waste not to do everything I could to keep getting straight A’s.

After reading about the accomplishments of these students on College Confidential, I wanted to help with Civic Bridge (a website I helped create for middle school students to post local news) much bigger. I envisioned it spreading to other schools or even other cities and inspiring young people to become more active in their communities.

In late November, after another depressing browse through a “chance” thread, I decided to block College Confidential from my browser. Why had I been going out of my way to upset myself? If a college doesn't think I’m good enough, so be it. The things I’m involved in make me really happy.

Even though Civic Bridge never got beyond Walnut, it was exciting to the middle school students I worked with. It was awesome when a student who thinks he is limited to math and science tells me he likes writing. Civic Bridge let me pass on what I loved most about journalism: talking to people and sharing their stories.

Looking back I feel foolish about how I let some website with the words of strangers affect me so much. I was annoyed with how easily I overlooked all I had going for me. Even now with still two more years of high school, I can’t think of a better way to begin junior year than competing at MUN and FBLA conferences and continue volunteering for what I enjoy doing. As excited as I am about college, I’m glad I realized that the admissions process didn't mean I had to stop dedicating myself to activities I love.

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