As a high school valedictorian, I wasn't worried about getting accepted into college. However, when the waitlist offers and rejections kept coming, I began to run low on options for my future. It had never occurred to me that I could've aimed too high when applying for colleges. In my high school, I was academically the best. Compared to the rest of the world's talents and achievements? My grades meant very little. So when I got to the end of the college decision period and was only accepted to one college, I developed a better understanding of high school, the college application process, and what really matters when pursuing goals in the future.
The Real World
High school in general is one large, self-contained competition.
Let’s face it, no matter what grades you get or who you’re better than at your high school, its always a big slap in the face to go out into the real world and encounter people inevitably smarter or more talented than you.
This phenomenon has lead so many high schoolers that have grown up feeling average compared to their contained group of peers to feel inadequate compared to everyone else in the world.
Therefore, the college application process is a high school student’s grand introduction to inadequacy.
Applying to College Today
When I applied to colleges, I had tunnel vision. I managed to assure myself that I didn’t need to apply to any local “safety” schools– or any schools with an acceptance rate over 40% for that matter. I thought I was pretty well off, being the valedictorian at a high school where the past year’s top two graduating students got accepted to Harvard. Sure, my standardized testing scores weren’t outrageous and I had never conducted my own TED Talk, but I had the good old application ideal that if I showed that I stuck with my extracurriculars and ranked well compared to my peers, I would be fine.
As it turns out, that ideal is becoming outdated very quickly. Now, it isn’t enough to perform well compared to the rest of your high school– you have to perform well compared to the rest of the world. And obviously, anticipating how impressive your high school career has been compared to everyone else your age is impossible.
I applied to eleven colleges this past year. One of the girls a year before me who got into Harvard? She applied to twenty-one. The uncertainty that comes along with how you place compared to your peers– or if you’re “good enough” to get into a certain school– has greatly increased the amount of applications high school students send to colleges today. Not only are colleges receiving huge volumes of applications, but this also means that they have to accept a smaller percentage of applicants to have a reasonable class size.
My One Acceptance
Out of the eleven schools I applied to, I was accepted to one. It was a horrifying wake-up call. The classic high school mindset of trying to get into a “better school” than my peers and live up to last year’s valedictorian had pressured me into applying only to very selective colleges. I felt like I could actually fit the criteria for a few of them, but wasn’t prepared for the overwhelming response that I got telling me that I just didn’t fit the bill. Five waitlist offers and five rejections later I decided to question everything I knew about my chances of success compared to others.
I had done all my research about the colleges I applied to and my chances getting into them, and I still came out totally unprepared for my results. But usually colleges know well enough to admit applicants based on who they’ve found to be a good fit to the school in the past, and I was accepted to Northeastern University early action.
Not like I had given myself any other choice, but luckily, I fell in love with the school. It took two visits and countless research about the university’s co-op program, but I could see myself accomplishing ivy-league tasks at a more academically well-fitting school.
Deciding to Take More Risks
I also found myself questioning what I thought was a safe decision for my future plans. Some of the schools I applied to that qualified as my “safeties” weren’t as safe as that nickname suggests. This ultimately made me wonder if my future career path was worth the opportunity to do something less safe.
I had originally applied to major in psychology wherever I had gone to school, although I always had a passion for media and entertainment. Psychology was no doubt a safer choice, and I felt I could become a clinical psychologist easily as there is always a need for healthcare professionals in clinical settings.
If I hadn’t only been accepted into Northeastern, there is a good chance I wouldn’t have put in the research I needed to really fall in love with the school. Under that circumstance, I might have gone somewhere more immediately well known just in the name of prestige. However, if that had happened, I would still be on my way to becoming a clinical psychologist right now.
Because Northeastern guarantees six to eighteen months of job experience in one’s chosen career field before graduating, I felt like I could take a bigger risk in my career path. Besides, if I’m going to be able to get professional experience in college, I might as well do something that I think is super cool.
This past year, I went from dealing with ten rejections to pursing my dream career field in Communications and Media & Screen Studies. So I just want to be the voice of reassurance, whether you’re still unsure about the school you’re attending or baffled by the acceptances you might not have gotten this past year. In the grand scheme of things, the risks that you take and how you use the opportunities you have right now is what will matter the most in accomplishing your goals.
Lead Image Credit: Piotrus via Wikimedia Commons