It is widely agreed upon that the first semester of senior year is one of the most treacherous times in high school. As if the demanding courses aren’t enough, the process of completing and submitting college applications is a constantly-looming storm cloud. But what is the true source of the pervasive fatigue and general feeling of inadequacy present during these months? Looking on the surface, it seems the sheer workload undertaken would be the culprit; yet, I believe there to be deeper and darker forces working to give college applications their infamy.
When filling out the Common Application, or writing school-specific supplements, the advertised objective is to create a true-to-life portrait of yourself. Simply recalling enough details of your life to do so is difficult as is, but would be much simpler if such a portrait were to be merely admired by another. Instead, it is being evaluated- ruthlessly- to determine the quality of your individuality, and your worthiness to become a member of a community for which- upon thorough investigation- you see yourself perfectly fit. Being subject to this kind of judgement is not only stressful; it’s traumatic.
The goal of the structure of the modern college application is to allow for more to be known about each applicant than just his or her grades. This is a noble philosophy, but one that falls apart when that which sets out to promote individuality only serves as another measuring point. Each listed activity must create the persona of the idealized college student- one who is a strong, well-rounded leader actively working to make the world a better place. Your power to create your own sense of worth is being stripped of you, as the quality of your future now depends upon another’s perception of the quality of your past.
The process following this realization can be a painstaking one. You evaluate each contribution to the application through the eyes of a person you’ve never met, searching for qualities you can’t quite define, and can’t guarantee you possess. Even if you’re an easy acceptance for your desired school, the innate unpredictability involved with college admissions prevents any resolute confidence. This general sense of uncertainty of self can easily seep into completely unrelated activities, including the very same that you are putting on your application. This feeling then impedes your ability to complete all of the demanding work in front of you, and the result is a vicious and unfortunate cycle of procrastination and self-loathing.
So what’s the purpose in identifying the source of this suffering? The method by which schools accept and reject students can’t be changed, and perhaps nor should it be; they have a business to run and must do so as efficiently as possible in order to maintain quality of education. The only solace that can be taken lies in the fact that soon the struggle will subside, and you will go to a school where happiness can be found, regardless of whether or not it is your top choice. It’s become a hackneyed idea, but who you are is truly not determined by where you go to college. You may have to give a school the power to determine your worth to them, but never your worth as an individual.
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