Dear College: Please Ignore My 36

January 7, 2014
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Granted, my 36 does look very neat on paper. When I first see it, I feel a sense of harmony, like when you manage to draw a circle without any edges. After all, it is a perfect score. And yet, there are days when I wish it wasn’t a 36. Why not take a nice round 24? Because as wonderful and perfect and neat as my ACT score may look, that 36 has turned out to be well, a little imperfect.

I’m sure some people would be horrified to hear me say such things. After all, aren’t I being terribly ungrateful? Aren’t there some kids who are staring at a 23 right now with a pit in their stomach, knowing that they cannot afford college without a scholarship, wondering what will become of their dreams and aspirations? Why should I complain about a perfect score? So let me qualify myself. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunities that have been afforded me. I have been blessed with an intelligent mind and a natural motivation and desire to work in school. I have not had to take a job to support my family, I have not had to pay for my own schooling, and I have much more in store for my future than many teenagers around the world could ever dream of.

When I first got my score back, it was like I had become a whole different person. Suddenly, I was some kind of genius. Everyone saw me with some kind of awe. I received congratulations from teachers, counselors, the principal. Peers who had never thought me to be particularly bright were suddenly amazed by my intellect. One teacher who had never even talked to me before recognized my name on the roll, pulled me aside, and asked incredulously, “Are you the Chris who got a 36 on his ACT?”

I am the only one with a perfect score at my high school. But there are at least two kids with a score of 35. Couldn’t it have been one of them with the perfect score and not me? How much of my score was just dumb luck? A single point difference seems so trivial to me, yet they have no fancy letters from the principal, no shining spotlight.

I am not unhappy that I did well on a test. It’s a significant accomplishment and I’m proud of it. But I am unhappy that my score, along with everyone else’s I know, carries so much weight in the gladiator’s arena we call the college admissions process.

My best friend has a score he is not satisfied with. When we talk about test scores and GPA’s, (although I try to avoid the subject), he sounds a little depressed. He seems to think that because of his subpar test scores, he will not get the admissions and scholarships he wants. And he is probably right. Because too many college admissions and scholarship offices have a heavy focus on ACT, SAT and GPA. My friend, (we’ll call him Bob), doesn’t have the best test scores or GPA. But if I were a college admissions officer, I couldn’t think of a person I’d rather have in my college. Bob has so much to give to Academia. He has won awards for his architectural design and planning. He has an extensive knowledge of library science and curatorship, and is an employee at our public library. He takes AP classes, reads widely, and loves learning. Yet, he will receive little, if any, scholarship money from the university of his choice, assuming he is admitted at all. Because so many colleges and universities see him as just a small collection of numbers.

What about me? Am I anything more than a number? I should think so. I call myself a published author, a jazz musician, a Mormon, a skier and an outdoorsman. I’ve climbed a mountain and kissed a girl. I’ve laughed, I’ve cried, I’ve prayed, I’ve hoped, and I’ve lived. But it is likely that none of these things will win me a scholarship or get me admitted. Because most colleges will look at exactly two things when they review my application. The number 4.0, and the number 36.

Many colleges today, especially the Ivy Leagues and other prestigious universities, have decided to use a more holistic admissions approach. I applaud them. Still many others simply look at an ACT/GPA/SAT index. I detest them. Every applicant to every university deserves better, if not for their hard work than simply for the fact that they are being robbed of every penny they’ve saved to get an education. College applicants aren’t statistics, they’re human beings. That’s why, as universities begin to decide whether I belong at their institution, I hope they can look past my 36 and 4.0. Because what’s beneath those numbers is so much more than perfection. It’s humanity. It’s me.

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