If you are feeling anxious about applying for college, rest assured that you are not alone: your condition has become the norm across high school students. The sad truth is, an environment in which such college-app-anxiety has become the norm is an environment that needs a jolt, and this sort of awareness can only begin with us, the students. It’s vital to clear up a few core misconceptions.
Problematic Phenomenon 1: Choosing your activities based on “what colleges like to see."
Of all college advice articles, pieces such as “Top 5 Extracurricular Activities Colleges Like Most” are the most destructive and conceptually backward. The title itself screams “you must shape yourself into ‘what the college is looking for." First of all, when will we finally understand that there is no magic formula? The qualities that colleges tend to evaluate fall under broad categories: rigor of classes taken, academic achievement, commitment to interests, etc. There is no shortcut or surefire way to secure admission at any school.
From the perspective of the colleges, admissions officers hope to choose students who can contribute to the campus and student life, through students’ passions for different fields. Keep in mind that colleges are trying to assemble a diverse and balanced group, and not necessarily a class of students who have each “done everything.” It’s in the best interest for both you and the college if you pursue activities that you are genuinely excited about, as opposed to merely trying to please the college.
Rather than letting the supposed preferences of an admissions office dictate what you do in high school, let’s take extracurricular activities for what they are: opportunities to explore and develop your own interests, regardless of your life after high school.
Problematic Phenomenon 2: Framing junior and senior years in terms of college admissions.
From months of intensive SAT prep to never-ending conversations about college rankings, it seems like the last two years of high school are often spent in the shadow of the looming application process. But is there not something fundamentally twisted in spending the last two years of high school fixating on college? The second half of high school is spent on the next stage, instead of being enjoyed for what it is. This is the equivalent of eating half of a delicious pie, only to eat the other half with your eyes trained on the next dessert. In doing so, you not only miss out on the flavor of your current piece, but also assign too great of an importance to the next. Enjoy the pie you’re eating right now.
College is not the culminating stage of your education. While some students do end tertiary education with a Bachelor’s Degree, the “final stage” is not necessarily “the moment we’ve all been waiting for.” Education, if anything, is a process. Let’s not mistake another leg of the journey as the destination, and then further mistake that as the driving purpose.
Use the time you might spend fretting over whether your “stats” are “good enough” or lurking in “Chance Me” threads on College Confidential to do something. Use these years when you’re most physically and mentally agile to equip yourself with as many skills as you can. Pick up another language. Learn computer programming. Start oil painting. Travel to rural villages. Do what you’re most afraid of. Do what you don’t think you’re capable of.
Expand your mind, and challenge yourself ceaselessly. This is ultimate purpose: becoming aware of the world, and more confident in what you can bring to it. And coincidentally, when the time comes around to write college essays, you’ll find yourself with more than enough memorable experiences to choose from. But you didn’t embark on those adventures for the goal of college applications. You did it to further yourself – and look at all that you’ve gained.
So, non-seniors, let’s stop framing school – whether with regard to academics or extracurriculars – in terms of college. It’s time to reclaim our education and to realize that we are the final product, not admission to any school. What will you do, in these four years, to challenge, expand and inspire yourself?
Do what you love, and the rest will fall into place.
UNIT-E was founded in the spring of 2010 with the aim of establishing a non-profit, student-run magazine for international students in Beijing. Staffed by current students from a range of international schools, the magazine provides an amalgam of cultural tidbits, fragments of Beijing student life, and a broad spectrum of unique perspectives from a diverse group of young adults.