Reflections on My Own College Admissions Process

One year ago, I was put on the waitlist to my dream school (that I was eventually denied from in May) and a week later, I got accepted to Wake Forest. I can’t believe that I received that news an entire year ago - in some ways, it feels like just yesterday! With all the negative buzz around college acceptance and a highlight on some of the unfair aspects of admissions, I began to reflect on my own experience of applying to colleges.

Applying to college was an incredibly stressful, uncertain, exciting and sleep-deprived time of my life. My junior year of high school was consumed with SAT prep, obsession with grades, college tours and minimal amount of time to actually relax. My senior year was full of deadlines, writing college essays, filling out applications, waiting for results and watching myself and my peers discover the next step our futures. Although this time was exciting and led to great opportunities, I would definitely not want to go through that anxiety-riddling process again. It seemed like for a while all my classmates talked about was how many AP classes they had taken, what a “good” GPA was, and which colleges you were applying to. 

Although not everyone cares as much as others about college and grades, it is way too common that high-schoolers become obsessed with college applications and let them take over their wellbeing. Although I’m really proud of my hard work and dedication, I sometimes wish I’d been a little less hard on myself and given myself more breaks to make memories with friends and family. I really think that the college admission process has become far too complicated and unfair, and it often forces students to believe that their own work will never be quite good enough. Obsessions with going to a prestigious college, instead of a college that might actually be a good fit for someone, can be really troublesome. There are clearly hundreds upon hundreds of colleges that will lead people to a happy and successful future, but when you are an upperclassman in high school, it can be hard to realize that. 

I really believe that the culture around the college application process needs to change. Although we wish college acceptance was simply about who you are and your personal accomplishments and values, other factors completely out of your control can lead you to your results. I agree that hard work and high-goals should be encouraged, but not when it leads to cheating, absurdly high levels of stress and people believing that only certain universities are “good enough”. 

My advice to high schoolers is to try to see things in a bigger picture. I know that it is so difficult NOT to stress about college and grades, but it is important that you look at your life on a broader scale. Many people go on to lead amazing lives with a degree from a lesser known college or without a college education. Additionally, many end up at colleges different than their dream-school and end up thriving. During this crazy time, it is important for high school juniors and seniors to remember your values and that honesty and integrity are far more important than an SAT score or being able to say you went to a certain college. You are worth so much more than grades, numbers, how many acceptances you got, etc. 

As I reflect on this year since receiving the news that decided my college future, I’ve become aware that things do not always go as planned. Reality often doesn’t align with our dreams, but you will be okay. If I could tell myself a year ago anything, it would be that things will eventually work out. Nothing is permanent, and you should lean into the present moment and try not to over-stress about the future. Don’t be concerned with others - you will someday realize why everything happened the way it did.