Back at home for winter break after successfully completing my first semester of college, I find it hard to believe that it has already been an entire year since I was filling out college applications. I feel as though that stressful and rewarding time of my life happened eons ago as the past twelve whirlwind months consisting of high school graduation, summer vacation, college move-in day and the fall semester separate the past from the present. Now that my younger sister, a junior in high school, has just begun her college search, memories of my experiences and emotions have resurfaced.
1. My sister’s increased advanced courses in order to boost her transcript resembles my struggles to balance school, extracurriculars and self-care.
The first two years of high school are all about adjusting to both the social atmosphere and the academic workload. Once junior year comes along, suddenly almost everything you do in high school is with college in mind. As an older sister, it’s hard to see my younger sibling dealing with the same stress of trying to find the perfect balance between academics, extracurriculars and mental health. I tell her what I have learned to do when I was in her place two years ago: listen to yourself if you know when enough is enough, and never blame yourself for not doing more.
2. Her standardized testing preparation recalls a time when studying for multiple tests produced feelings of frustration and anxiety.
Standardized testing. The part of the college application process that students dread the most, at least in my case. The pressure to get a score as close to a 36 for the ACT or a 1600 for the SAT is immense. In this pursuit for a desired number, it’s so hard to see that it’s not just the score that matters. When my sister got a PSAT score she wasn’t very happy with, I reminded her that while I wasn’t the best test taker, I allowed colleges to see that I was more than just a number though my essays and extracurriculars. A number doesn’t define who a person is.
3. Her uncertainty of what she wants to study in college and pursue as a career brings back the pressure to plan out my entire life.
As students get older and approach junior and senior years of high school, the common conversation starter and dinner table discussion becomes one of college majors and career choices. If a student is lucky, they would already know what they want to study and what career path they want to take. For the rest of us, including my sister and I, sometimes that vision isn’t so clear at first. While my sister’s interest is in the sciences, I reassured her that this was more than enough to continue with the college search. People change majors and choose different paths constantly during their college careers; what’s wrong with waiting a little longer for that spark, that passion?
4. Her pursuit of perfection with everything she does, including the college process, is reminiscent of a former mindset of mine that I had to be this superhuman figure in order to get accepted into college.
Let’s face it. Since we don’t know what exactly goes on in the admission room, students automatically default to portraying themselves as the absolute perfect versions of themselves that they can be; at the price of their self-esteem. The stakes may seem high but at the end of the day, I had to remind myself (and a year later, my sister) that you can only put forth your best application if you stick true to yourself and not an illusion. We’re not perfect nor should we strive to be.
5. Her exploration of the four thousand plus colleges and universities in the country reminds me of my initial search as an overwhelming experience.
With a laptop and tons of promotional brochures and pamphlets in hand, my sister looked lost and vulnerable. As we sat next to each other ready to make a preliminary college list, I completely understood her plight. During this time in her life, my sister must get acquainted with a bunch of colleges and universities — some of which she’s never heard of — and decide the select few that she believes could be the right picks. With the knowledge of quite a few of colleges and universities from my exploration, I helped narrow down a list that looked much less terrifying and more manageable.
6. Her fear of entering the adult world so soon with thoughts of internships, careers and salaries in her mind takes me back to a time when I too was afraid that I wasn’t ready for this next chapter of my life.
Even if you are prepared for this moment from the moment you’re born, the transition to college happens so fast in a flurry of emotions. The sudden juxtaposition between relaxation/fun and higher education/the workforce can be overwhelming. But just because one has started the college search doesn’t mean childhood ends right there. To continue to be a healthy, happy person, I tell my sister, is to indulge yourself once in awhile and do things that make you happy, even if don’t line up with standards of adulthood. There’s plenty of time to take on adult responsibilities and these are mostly introduced gradually, not all at once.
Do I wish I could do it all over again? Absolutely not. To put it mildly, going through the college application process was one of the most demanding and exhausting points of my life that I am relieved to put behind me. Then again, guiding my younger sister through her journey has made me realize that going forward, in times of doubt and disillusionment, I can look back on my past experiences and appreciate how hard I worked during those several months to get to this point of my college career, that I rightfully belong in this institution and have what it takes to succeed. If I could survive applying to college, then I can do just about anything I set my mind to.
Lead Image Credit: Maarten van den Heuvel via Unsplash