The Bigger Questions | Teen Ink

The Bigger Questions

August 18, 2010
By Maren Killackey BRONZE, Medford, Oregon
Maren Killackey BRONZE, Medford, Oregon
3 articles 15 photos 2 comments

Ah, yes. We are all quite familiar with this time of year. Some call it “Dog Days.” Some call it “Last Glimpse of Freedom.” Anyway, others just call it August. But even those who don’t know the feeling sense that… aura of anxiety emanating from reluctant adolescents gearing up for the new school year. And the expression of dread is no more apparent than on the faces of senior class members. True, there are some of us who are ecstatic about spending time with friends, a more manageable class schedule, and of course, senior privileges (including Being At the Top of the Food Chain), but while senior year should be ubiquitously awesome, one cannot ignore the elephant in the room. Seniors are warriors, and summer through fall we’re collecting ammunition, drawing battle plans for the onslaught that is applying to college. Well, that might not be the case for everyone, but one thing is certain: it’s a rather stressful period of time, especially if you’re applying to some higher profile, more competitive schools.

I had always imagined I’d go to a big name school. Why? Because it had a big name. Anything less than Harvard would be a disappointment to my family and bring dishonor to my name. At least, that was what was stuck in my mind. This summer I toured the University with my step-godsister (yes, I understand that’s convoluted). She had graduated from one such high profile college, and was doing some research with classmates at Tufts Medical School. Kindly, she had taken some time off to help me get my head around the whole college thing. The tour was disappointing (we inexplicably had no access to the dining hall, library, or any of the dorms) and I wasn’t a big fan of Cambridge. But I pushed aside these conflicting feelings in favor of repeating the speculative jibber-jabber about the prestigious institution that had been thrown at me by friends, family members, and college authorities. In fact, I knew less about Harvard after the tour than I did before it. I told Anne (godsister) about my, what I thought to be, disturbing feelings. Little did I know that uncertainty is not fatal. She “knew a guy,” she told me, which under any other circumstances should be the end of a conversation, but I was desperate for any information that could help me discern Harvard from Brown from U Penn from Princeton etc (other than location, of course). That was the day I met Matt. Or was his name Dan? Anyway, while his name is forgettable the knowledge he imparted was not. His first point was that all “Ivies” are the same; so don’t spend a lot of time trying to discern Harvard from Brown from U Penn from Princeton etc. Secondly, there exists a class of people who have the uncanny ability to appear intelligent “on paper” (i.e. on the application) but are unable to have any sort of intellectual conversation with another person, so I should keep in mind what kind of student body I want to be a part of. Lastly, get ready for a socioeconomic shock. Not that his experience at Harvard had marked an introduction to poverty, no; he himself had been homeless at one point. The shock he had encountered was in response to unimaginable wealth (I recall mention of a classmate receiving the Magna Carta for her birthday). Now, whether he was just trying to mess with me or not ultimately didn’t matter. Anne had already told me that adjusting to life after college had been difficult for her because Spring Break plans suddenly didn’t involve yachts or the south of France. And she wasn’t being snobbish. In fact, she was laughing at herself, trying to point out how ridiculous it was that experiences that are once in a lifetime for many people, had become almost quotidian for her. “Basically,” she told me, “watch out for becoming jaded.”

Matt (or Dan) was also trying to prove a point. The three bits of information he gave me were not supposed to be inherently frightening; they were supposed to be enlightening. Matt or Dan or whatever his name was (David?) was trying to force me to ask a question I had, ignorantly enough, failed to ask myself: is Harvard right for me? Long story short, the answer was no. Surprisingly enough, that was fine by me (and my family). Apparently I had skipped the chapter in virtually every college admissions book that says, “Choosing the right college first requires a bit of introspection,” or something to that effect, and it led only to pain and suffering. So seniors, amid all the frantic acrobatics that are involved in the college admissions process, be at peace with the fact that if you’re not right for X University, X University is not right for you. There’s a world beyond SAT tutors, college counselors, and admissions personnel; keep in mind what’s best for you personally, and ask yourself another essential question one of these final summer days: What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

The author's comments:
READ "LOST IN THE MERITOCRACY" BY WALTER KIRN NOW! It was a great resource, and even if you don't really care what he has to say, it's an entertaining book.

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