Cartoon from andertoons.com.
Chronicle Adviser Mr. Conner explores the importance of college choice and the admissions process in his latest blog post, Q: Does your college choice matter? A: Maybe not, and anticipates the release of Frank Bruni’s Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be. After reading it, I must admit it is an appealing notion that in these days of college-will-be-your-end-all-or-be-all stress that college may not, in fact, matter much in the long-run. But it goes against every grain of a student’s being to abandon all delusions of ivy towers and therefore, drop their 486.72 hours of community service, Student Body President role, Speech and Debate team captaincy, Science Olympiad gold medals, Track participation, and 5.67 GPA.
We want it all.
Because we are told to diversify, diversify, diversify until we end up overwhelmed and completely clueless as to what we actually want to do with our lives. We are concerned only with “Admission Impossible” as TIME humor columnist Joel Stein coined it. Even as a sophomore, I am already swamped with college-decision mania–because surely the actions of a fifteen-year-old will determine the rest of my life. For example, I took the PSAT, traditionally a test for juniors, for practice as a sophomore, and my name was promptly entered into the College Board’s Student Search Service, and I am now bombarded with college emails that assure me it is a-okay if I don’t know what I want to do with my life yet, so long as I come to their school and pay them while I figure it out.
And I confess that used to be me. Ever a perfectionist, the college insanity hit me early, and I found myself on Harvard’s website. I did not and do not have any intention of applying there, but I figured that if I could meet Harvard’s admission standards, I could go anywhere. (Yes, I was deluded.) And yet I did not discover pages upon pages of criteria that had to be met or test scores that weren’t high enough. I found this:
Some students distinguish themselves for admission with their unusual academic promise through experience or achievements in study or research. Other students present compelling cases because they are more “well-rounded,” having contributed in many different ways to their schools or communities. Still other successful applicants are “well-lopsided” with demonstrated excellence in one particular endeavor. Some students bring perspectives formed by unusual personal circumstances or experiences. Like many colleges, we seek to admit dynamic, talented, and diverse students who will contribute significantly to the education of their classmates.
Well-lopsided. Once I read those words, I ignored anything I’d ever heard about college admissions. Because I’ve always known what I wanted to do–I just wouldn’t let myself believe it. I want to write. Some may scoff because I don’t aspire to a career in which I engineer computer software or practice surgery on small children. I have no ears for them; I’m busy making myself well-lopsided. Since middle school, I’ve thrown myself at every writing opportunity available: Power of the Pen, summer camps at the University of Iowa and Indiana University, the Chronicle, Polyphony H.S., the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. It’s not for something to put on my résumé to trick college admissions officers into believing I have superhuman mental capabilities. I do it because I love it.
I may not get a 36 on the ACT: there will always be someone who scores higher than me. I don’t even have 30 hours of community service, but I spend hours each week editing submissions for the national, high-school-student-run literary magazine Polyphony H.S. For free. I created this blog as a staff member of the Chronicle and have learned more inside room c103 than in any of my other classes combined. So, yes, my application may be shunted aside in exchange for an exceptionally well-functioning robot, but I won’t distress.
As college acceptance rates dwindle, I’m still naive enough to believe that passion matters. And if Frank Bruni’s claim is true, and Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be, I’ll take pride in knowing that wherever I end up–ivy-draped buildings or unheard of community schools–I’ll love what I do.
Because I am going to write.