I have a tale to tell, and it’s not a happy one.
I’ve always been a pretty focused kid. I realized in seventh grade how important it was to go to a good college. I distinctly remember sitting on a train in New Mexico with my grandparents. I had my new Nook Color with me, and I was trying to find a book to read. While I was browsing the store, I stumbled upon a book called, “Get Into Any College.”
I thought that book would be an ego-raising kind of experience. My seventh grade self thought, What more is there to getting into college than being a good student and having good grades? Well, I read the book, and I was horrified. It contained profiles of kids applying to colleges. Long story short, I took that book out of context. I became convinced that I had to be some well-rounded academic whiz to get into college.
I suppose that I felt college was the only way to secure a good future for myself. I thought that if I didn’t go to a good college, then I would be a failure. And being an impressionable seventh grader with no idea of what the world truly is, I fell in love with this idea. To be melodramatic, it became a dream I fell so hopelessly in love with and a nightmare I couldn’t wake myself up from.
I suppose my high school years don’t come as much of a surprise then. I agonized over school work and carefully chose my extracurricular activities. Talk about a lot of pressure. By my junior year, I was unhappy. I spent too many hours thinking about college and my future and agonizing over every detail. I felt as though I had a burden looming over my shoulders, about to crush me.
Take this as a cautionary tale.
By this point, it was difficult to separate my very identity from the idea of college. The two were so intricately linked that I undermined my character for the preposterous, overvalued idea of a prestigious undergraduate education. I say this with the utmost shame: I sacrificed my integrity, humility, and decency as a human being for an acceptance letter. For the past year, I have been struggling to play catch-up.
Laugh at my story. Belittle my melodrama. The point is, college has become more than an institution or a place where you go after high school. It has become a manifestation of success, almost a rite of passage.
We’ve spent too much time preparing ourselves to score an acceptance letter and not enough time preparing ourselves for what really matters. What really matters, you ask? The truth is, I’m still trying to figure that out. But I know it’s much greater than an acceptance letter.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.