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When the Road to College Is Bumpier Than Expected
Somehow today was my last day of classes in high school. I have no idea how it happened so fast. Elementary school, middle school, and now high school seems like a complete blur. My senior year has been an interesting one to say the least. It has been filled with every emotion imaginable: excitement, hope, sadness, anger, and everything in between. What I imagined to be a year filled with triumph and pride devolved into something much different. When I look back at how I got to this point, though, I question so much about the college process and my own priorities as a student and a person.
Let me preface this entire recounting of my journey through the college process with the most cliche, but true, line about colleges. “In the end, everything will be ok.”
So let’s start with freshman year. I am a wide-eyed 5’2” freshman terrified of what high school will entail. I am only 14 years old, but college periodically crosses my mind. I am taking a course load of three honors classes and two regular classes and am receiving high-90s grades. I realized during freshman year that I wanted to strive in order to work towards getting into some top level schools. I was doing things I truly enjoyed. I had been playing the bassoon for three years at this point, I was playing travel hockey, and I was volunteering for a daycare center. Thus, I was on the right track.
During sophomore year I started increasing my course load and added more extracurricular activities. I took AP European History and was taking three honors classes in addition to science research in which I was studying Parkinson’s disease. I joined Model UN and fell in love with the idea of debating international topics. Throughout the year I excelled in each class and starting feeling encouraged about my college prospects. But, I wound up sacrificing a lot in order to have this success. I didn’t get enough sleep and I was so focused on my academics that I deprioritized my social life.
Then, junior year. This is where things started to pick up. I was taking three AP classes, and four college level classes as well as striving to build my GPA up as high as possible. This year featured two hockey teams, multiple clubs, multiple orchestras and science research among other activities. So sleep and my social life, again, took a back seat. As I began the horror that is standardized test prep, I started to become a college maniac as I like to call it. I was completely consumed with the idea of college and getting into a top school.
After a summer spent researching neurodegenerative disease for my science research project, college application season (or as it is colloquially referred to in my school, Common App SZN) was finally underway. I could not have been more hopeful. I had spent the end of summer touring schools and I felt as though I had compiled a list of schools that I could get into. In theory I was right. My grades and ACT scores were above or in the middle 50% of the scores of every school that I applied to. My list consisted of some Ivy League schools, other top schools, and some large public universities that I considered “safeties”. My guidance counselor agreed that my list suited my application. No problem at this point.
For my top school, I applied through restricted early action, a program that is non-binding, but prevents applicants from applying early to other private colleges. There are only four schools that do restricted early action and I thought this would be the best course of action. So I sent out the application. It was time to wait...and wait...and wait until December 14.
December 14th was the first bump in the road. I was deferred from my top school. I was incredibly disappointed and didn’t even go into school the next day. I had spent hours rationalizing every part of my application and panicking to my friends for weeks before the decision. It was a major letdown. I would have to wait until late March and grind out the rest of the school year. Before this December 14th date, I was accepted into the honors programs of two of the large public schools that I had applied to. I was happy, but not fulfilled. I would just have to continue on.
The second bump in the road came about a week later. I heard that decisions had come out for one of the large schools that I had applied to. I opened up the online portal. Deferred. I was surprised to say the least. How is it possible that I get deferred from a school whose average GPA and ACT are much lower than mine? I really had no idea at the time. Even though I showed a ton of interest in this school, it did not work out initially.
The ensuing months were filled with college interview after interview and constant anxiety. I did seven interviews in total, which all went well, although I am not sure how much of an effect they actually had on my decision for the individual schools. This period from December to March was a grind. I not only had to take on five AP classes, but I was playing on two hockey teams, I was the president of three clubs, I played in an orchestra, and I was preparing my science research project for competitions.
As the week of March 26th came closer, the anxiety began to build. I was waiting to hear from nine schools, so in theory I should get into at least one. This was my rationale at the time. I knew the the numbers weren’t in my favor, but I also knew that my application made me qualified for each school. Then, the decisions started coming in. Rejected, Rejected, Rejected, Rejected, Waitlisted, Waitlisted, Waitlisted, Rejected, Waitlisted.
In no way was I prepared to deal with these results. I physically could not believe that I wouldn’t get into any of those nine schools. I had put so much effort into qualifying myself to be considered and it didn’t work. All the effort, focus, lack of sleep, and drive led to no tangible result. I was crushed. I didn’t go to school the next day, embarrassed to face everyone proudly sporting their sweatshirts and tee-shirts from their respective schools. The texts started to flood in “what’s going on with colleges?”, “where are you going?”, “did you find out yet?”. I didn’t respond to a single one. I started to become angry and bitter at everyone and everything. I was incredibly jealous over anyone having any form of success with college admissions. I had to get off social media to avoid the constant influx of people committing to schools and l would blindly congratulate them in person. This continued for almost a month. But this type of resent isn’t healthy. It can overtake every aspect of your life and make you ignorant to the fact that there is so much more beyond college. Now I am more at peace with myself. Time truly does heal. I still get upset about my situation, but it doesn’t consume me. Only certain events or things get to me. The constant question of “do you know where you’re going?” hits me hard, but I’ve developed the answer “it’s a whole thing that I just don’t want to get into now”. Obviously, May 1st, National College Signing Day, has passed, so I did have to commit to one of the two schools that I got into. But I wasn’t in the school parking lot at 7 am having a breakfast tailgate in my college sweatshirt. I sat through the day and kept my composure as I was surrounded by every single one of my classmates in a college sweatshirt. In this game that is college applications, perseverance and pragmatism are key.
So where do I go from here? Immediately after being waitlisted from my top schools, I made a promise to myself that I would do everything possible to get off the waitlist. In the time since I have sent countless emails, made phone calls, sent in auxiliary recommendations and have kept my name in the loop. Obviously it is an uphill battle from here but I am not going to give up. I’m not going to lie to you and say that I am content with my position. I’m not. I know what I can achieve and I am going to strive to get there no matter what. I recognize that I am a victim of the numbers in the college process, and there’s nothing I can do about that. It wasn’t my fault. I created the best possible application that I could. It just didn’t work out as of now. Did I prioritize college too much? Maybe, however, I am in my situation for a reason and everything will work out one way or another. But, I am not going to let where I go to school define me as a person. I know how hard I have worked and I know how much effort I have put in the process. Not getting into an Ivy League school does not devalue everything I have done throughout high school. If I could give any advice to those starting the college process I would just say to roll with the punches. There are so many schools out there. Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. The right school will find you at some point or another. After you submit your application you have no control over how the admissions officers see you. They could literally have a bad egg salad sandwich (eggs again) for lunch and then read your application with a negative attitude. Everything is subjective. You may get into your top choice, or you may not, but determination and grit are paramount as you create your own journey to find happiness at a school.