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Jun 15 2017
by Cassidy Jackson

How the College Application Process Hurt My Self Esteem

By Cassidy Jackson - Jun 15 2017
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"Boy, why you so obsessed with me?" sings Mariah Carey in her Eminem diss track entitled “Obsessed.” Jamming through my throwback playlist, this song caught my attention, first because it’s catchy, and second because it got me thinking about my senior year of high school. I know what you’re all thinking. How does a track claiming that Eminem's a stalker relate to the stress of senior year? Trust me, it does.

Let me set the senior year scene. C-O-L-L-E-G-E. What does that spell? COLLEGE! What seems to be a minuscule seven letter word to most holds a great deal of power over the average senior, including myself. Metaphorically, college is a string of yarn and all the seniors are cats chasing after it. To get straight to the point, seniors have an obsession with college (hence my connection to the “Obsessed” song). But isn’t this to be expected?

The past three years of our lives have been devoted to getting to this college finish line, and we’re within arm’s reach. I remember a short month into freshmen year, my school was already planting the idea of college into our young minds at mandatory four year plan meeting. Us freshmen sat around multiple circle tables and mapped out our four year plan on a Google Doc: our class schedules for the next three years, prospective colleges and our plans for school involvement. Basically, I was supposed to map out my high school career and college application when I didn’t know who I was, I didn’t know what I wanted and, last but not least, I didn’t even have my freshman year class room numbers memorized.

On top of the pressure to have the next four years of our lives etched out, peers and adults push academic perfection from the start. I was told something along the lines of “Start your high school career with a BANG, because colleges look at how you handled the transition from middle school to high school” countless times. I remember falling into a frenzy after I got my first B, convinced that my college success was screwed.

It doesn’t end there. All throughout high school we make choices to boost our future application. We decide to pass on Tea Club and opt for Erika’s Lighthouse. We strategically choose our electives to revolve around our prospective major, sending the message to colleges that we knew what we wanted even though some classes we just wanted to take for fun. I wanted so badly to take film, but my high school counselor told me that I would be wasting a credit on something that wouldn’t enhance my college application. So it’s easy to see that the college pressure is present the minute we step through high school doors.

So, when posed the question “Are high school seniors’ excitement, anxiety and, simply put, obsession with college valid feelings or is college overhyped?” The correct answer is clearly the second option!

But THEN:

When the month of December rolled around, the first round of acceptance and rejection letters began to roll in. And unexpectedly, the college obsession took a bizarre turn to say the least. Instead of conversations centering around our steps to a successful college application, college gossip began to run rampant through the high school’s halls, and comparison became a norm. We started to analyze peers’ academic and extracurricular achievements, or lack thereof, like FBI detectives, hypothesizing why this person got into an Ivy League, and why the next person didn’t.

I heard “Did you hear that BLANK got rejected from BLANK? I kind of knew he wouldn’t get in, because even though he got a 36 on the ACT and has a 5.0, his extracurriculars were subpar” so many times. Instead of hearing our peers’ acceptances and rejections and offering a “Congratulations” or words of hope, we take it too far.

As much as I wish I was, I’m not immune to this comparison disease. For a few days after my Northwestern admittance, I had no idea who else got admitted. Unknown to me then, I was free. When I did learn the identities of my fellow Northwestern class of 2021 students, I instinctively began to compare. “I’m smarter than her.” “That person is more involved in school than me.” “I don’t deserve to have gotten in.” One negative thought led to another, and it became a snowball effect of negativity. Once I started, I couldn’t stop.

The week following my Northwestern acceptance, I fell into a deep hole of unhappiness. Everyone around me would say “WOW! Northwestern is such a hard school! Did you hear that BLANK got rejected and had a 5.0 GPA?” I didn’t have a 5.0 GPA. I didn’t deserve to have gotten in. I wasn't good enough. I wasn't worthy.

Comparison is the death of all joy, and the college admissions process has ingrained that idea in me. The true fact is you can never know for sure why someone or yourself was rejected or accepted. For others, you don’t know their ACT score, GPA, haven’t read their college essay or their letters of rec and you don’t know everything they’re involved in. For yourself, you can never know what stood out or failed to.

Although we're curious about where our classmates, best friends and the school’s smartest kids are heading off to, we shouldn’t lose sight of ourselves. College doesn’t define us. An Ivy League rejection letter doesn’t define the kid sitting directly in front of you. An Ivy League acceptance doesn’t make you better than another. College is just a small piece of our life puzzle. So instead of dissecting every aspect of someone’s high school career to understand “Why?” or comparing yourself to your classmates, focus on YOUR future. 

Lead Image Credit: Pexels

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Cassidy Jackson - Northwestern University

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