College. Even the word gets me stressed out. It isn’t that I think I can’t get into a good college or that I won’t be able to handle the work... it’s the pressure associated with the word. While the college emails bombarding my inbox sound welcoming and friendly, the college board website turns the college search into a competitive race for admission.
Work hard for your grades. Study for three hours for every hour spent in class. Participate in extracurriculars. Join student clubs, but don’t jump around too much! Having a job looks good, but make sure to do some community service too. Take on a RIGOROUS academic schedule.... doing everything else perfectly at the same time. Do all this without going completely mentally and socially insane.
High school counselors are even worse: Want a free block? Are you SURE about that? Colleges will think you’re slacking, even if you founded your own charity and got a 5 on the AP Bio exam. Don’t want to take a math class senior year because you’ve taken every one the school has to offer? WHAT? Not an option! If you don’t take community college math classes in addition to your already full schedule, every good college will TURN YOU DOWN.
This heavy pressure is confusing and self-hate inducing. The pressure has, on me at least, an opposite effect: Instead of becoming perfect, I watch Jeopardy re-runs and drown in fear-of-college-admissions-induced tears over a heaping bowl of pistachio ice cream, leaving homework stuffed in a corner.
The fact that colleges advertise themselves as non-threatening places where students are encouraged to learn and think, yet the college board and counselors drop the COLLEGE STRESS BALL on previously excited learners (turning them into sleepless, multitasking, COLLEGE zombies) leads me to think there’s something wrong here. What do colleges really want?
Here’s my unofficial guide:
1. Be yourself. If you hate community service, don’t do it. Colleges can tell if you don’t care about something.
2. Take charge. Do what you think is best for your education, instead of following an action plan or a counselor’s cookie cutter schedule. Colleges will appreciated your individuality.
3. Pick extracurriculars you like. Say, you’ve been playing clarinet for 8 years, but if you get bored and want to take up archery or theatre instead.... do it. You can always change your mind. Opening new doors may lead to a possible college major.
4. Don’t be afraid of alternative options like the Peace Corps, a gap year, or starting your own business. It’s possible to be successful and get your own education without pursuing college right away.
image: The Tightrope Walker, 1885, Jean-Louis Forain