I have a vague recollection of my life before I was applying to college. There was this magical thing called free time. We had other things to talk about. My value and worth wasn’t a combination of my GPA and my SAT scores. I didn’t have to write 500 words about who the hell I am to some stranger who will never meet me. Now? Well, it’s 24/7 college talk, baby. And it’s killing my mojo.
For as long as I can remember, it’s all been building to this…getting into college. Get good grades, take challenging courses, be involved, develop leadership skills, volunteer. You know, be perfect, or at least well-rounded. All of this really has me wondering, shouldn’t a 17 year old have a few rough edges?
Look, I get it. College is important. I’m lucky. Don’t ever for a minute think I don’t understand this. I do. But I’m also only human. And despite how much I want you think I’m ready for total independence, I’m basically just a kid. A kid with a life, friends, relationships and just the daily struggles of surviving high school, which, in case you’ve forgotten, is kind of a nightmare. Those John Hughes movies you love? Add in social media and the college process and, seriously, it’s a lot.
For starters, I don’t really know what I want to do with my life. Does anyone? Sure, I’ve cobbled together a decent response to this evil question to satisfy society at large, but do you really think at 17 I’m sure? I’m sure of nothing, actually. Being unsure is like my most common thought. Unsure of myself. Unsure of my future. Unsure what will happen when I pack up my room and move to a new place where I know no one.
And no one is talking about that. In less than a year I’ll live somewhere new and random. It’s exciting, yes, but on a scale of stressful life changes, this has to rank up there, right? For the first time ever I will not come home to my house to be with my family. Okay, fine, to retreat to my room and ignore you guys, but I know you are there. I know there is a place where I can be myself, not put on anything for anyone and be accepted. Will I have that anymore? I don’t really know.
So, when we visit the campuses and you ask me if I like it, I don’t know what to say. I’ve been there for two hours. How am I supposed to know if I want to live there? I say, “I dunno” and see the frustration in your eyes, because you are paying, a lot. Or taking out loans. How are we even paying for this?!? I know it’s expensive, so of course you need to know if I like it. But it’s a lot of pressure. I’m 17.
Maybe I’m not old enough to realize all of this is swirling around in my brain and articulate it, but I feel it. It’s landing in my subconscious and making me act like kind of a jerk. I’m sure you’ve noticed. When I snap at you about my applications with my semi-professional snark, I’m not really annoyed with you. I’m dealing with the manifestation of these emotions I don’t even know I’m having in the only way I know how…making you feel stupid. I’m good at it, right? But I know you’re not stupid. Please don’t mistake my attitude for how I really feel about you. Right now I need your patience and understanding more than I probably deserve. It’s a complicated time and I’m doing the best I can.
You see, I remember when it was simpler. When I was little there were no limits on my future. I miss that. I miss being valued for my creativity, personality, kindness, and uniqueness. Now, let’s face it, I’m a number. I’m a GPA, an SAT or ACT score. I’m a quantifiable entity. Plug me into an algorithm to determine my future. It sucks. There’s so much more to me. I’m a multi-layered unquantifiable badass collection of atoms that is one of a kind. And that’s a scientific fact, dammit! But no one seems to care. Now, I’m a name on an application. I’m a hurry up and get those essays written. I’m a how are we going to afford this. I’m a strategy for getting accepted at a college I’ve been to once.
Maybe it’s why I don’t even want to write my essays. Maybe it’s why I’m dragging my heels and you are clenching your teeth. For as much as I know I’m unique, I equally know I’m not. I’m one of thousands trying to get into the same schools. We have the same grades, test scores, and activities. I know the essay is my one chance to show them I’m the one they should admit. Only, I’m not sure I am. Please refer to me being unsure of everything. My life experiences seem dumb and unimportant. Yes, I’ve hit a new low, lamenting my boring, nice life because I have nothing traumatic to write about in my college essays.
And, how, please tell me, can I explain who I am in 500 words when I’m not entirely sure. It wouldn’t be easy if I did know completely. Writing about personal reflection is a talent few people have, and yet we are all expected to do it and do it well. At best, I’m a work in progress. At worst, I’m a lump of clay. Isn’t college supposed to help open my mind and shape me? Can I write that I’m a lump of clay? Is that the worst idea ever? I have no idea. The truth? I like video games, watching movies, and hanging out with my friends. Why is this not enough? This essay is making me not even like me. But I throw it into the juggling already in progress of my classes, job, activities, relationships, family, only it’s not a bowling pin, it’s a flaming knife. What the what?
Believe it or not, I will get everything done. This process will end. I’ll reluctantly hit the “Submit” button, probably in a complete sweat, and electronically transfer my life’s work over to strangers to judge me, and possibly reject me. Good times, right? I think about that a lot, you know. I’m aware rejection is part of life, but it doesn’t change how it feels. I’ve even experienced rejection, but this feels different. This feels personal and public and makes me feel vulnerable. Have you ever met a 17 year old who likes to feel vulnerable?
I guess my point is that even though I am actually really looking forward to going to college, and grateful, I’m also feeling pretty overwhelmed on the daily. I’ve got it under control, until I don’t. I don’t need your help, until I do. I can fly without you, until I’m falling and need you to swoop in and catch me. If I don’t say it enough, I appreciate you being there, every time. I know it’s all going to be fine. I do. I trust you when you tell me college will be great, the best years of my life. But, you need to know, the last 17 years have been great too, the best years of life, and I will miss them. I will miss you. Don’t forget that.
M. has been working with students applying to college for years and is here to say, the struggles are real. This is her take on what they might want you to know.