As I prepared to write this column by spinning round and round in my wheeled desk chair, I had somewhat of an epiphany.
I am a junior in high school.
Yes, I’m fully aware this is no mind-blowing, life-changing discovery, but it seems difficult to believe that in a little over two years I’ll be a legal adult hauling my bags into a dorm room hours away from my family, friends and cat.
Like most high school students, the idea of filling out college applications makes me shudder, but it’s almost impossible to forget the burdenous stress when people babble endlessly about college. It feels as though everyone, myself included, is constantly busy trekking to college visits or joining clubs to bulk up their resume and make a first-rose-worthy impression on the school of their dreams.
I’ve never understood why students put so much pressure on themselves to impress some suits in an admissions office far, far away.
This summer, I spent a weekend at Villanova University for a leadership conference, not knowing what to expect. When my dad parked the car, a pair of counselors wearing blue wigs and face paint sprinted to our car and greeted us. We passed several other counselors on our way to the check-in line who seemed filled with spirit and joy for the weekend to come. Seeing their ever-present smiles made my excitement grow further. I couldn’t wait for the conference to begin.
After putting my clothes away and making my dorm room bed, I rushed down the stairs to meet the nine other teens I’d spend the weekend with along with our counselor, Peter, who described all of the activities we would participate in and speakers we would hear.
To my surprise, the kids in my group complained about all of the exciting events planned for us. They nearly dozed off while inspiring speakers told us their stories, like a man who never performed well in school but started an international nonprofit in honor of his brother to raise money for cancer research or a woman who grew up homeless but became a renowned lawyer. During cheers and the scavenger hunt, they sported frowns and constantly rolled their eyes. When we went to an urban garden to pick fresh fruits, herbs and vegetables, for families in Philadelphia, they whined through the entire two hours of so-called labor.
Attempting to pinpoint the cause of their misery was a more arduous task than trying to solve a complex physics problem with no knowledge of algebra.
Maybe they were having a bad day. Maybe they were homesick. Or maybe the cafeteria food made them sick. All of these ideas seemed like plausible hypotheses, but it wasn’t until a conversation at lunch with two of the girls in my group that I understood their moodiness.
Our discussion went a little something like this:
Girl 1: “I love my summer job at Temple. I get to assist researchers in the labs there.”
Me: “That’s really cool! Do you want to go to school there?”
Girl 1: “No I don’t want to go there. My brother had the same job, and he goes to UPenn now. I’m really only looking at Ivies and maybe MIT.”
At this point, I stuffed my mouth with a meatball to refrain from blurting out some sarcastic comment about her blatant pretension. And just when I thought we were finished talking about high-falutin colleges, Girl 2 chimed in with, “Oh really? My sister goes to Yale, and I want to go there, too. I went to a camp there last summer that was a lot nicer than this one but sometimes you have to do stuff like this because colleges like to see ‘leadership potential.’”
Now I knew why they seemed so annoyed the entire conference; they never wanted to come. For them, this weekend was not an eye-opening experience or an opportunity to learn but rather another line of meaningless text on their already overflowing resumes. They travelled to Villanova not because they hope to be leaders in this world but because they’re aspiring to receive a coveted fat envelope from a top-tier school. It seemed their lives were so consumed with cracking the code of college admissions gatekeepers that they never found time to do what they wanted.
As much as their behavior disgusted me in the moment, I can’t help but feel some ounce of pity for them and anyone else who feels this innate need to concoct the “perfect” resume that could make any admissions counselor fall in love with them. I also can’t lie and say that I’ve never skipped a family dinner or party in order to study for a biology test or write a DBQ.
But now that I’m almost one quarter into my junior year of high school, I realize that the time I spent freaking out over grades and college admissions was a bigger waste of time than the entire last season of Pretty Little Liars. After all, I only have two years before I move away and ramen noodles and cafeteria food become staple pieces in my diet. So I might as well relax with my friends, eat some home-cooked meals and pet my cat as much as possible before it’s all over (and I suggest you do the same.)