An Open Letter To All High School Students Freaking Out About College Admissions
It seems kind of strange. To everyone else outside of the 12 months of your particular microgeneration, March and April are just inconsequential, rainy months that we need to brush past to get to summer — but to you, the things that happen in these two months can make or break your entire fragile world.
As your high school career draws to a close, you know that you did everything you were supposed to. You took all the hard classes. You pulled all-nighters. You threw yourself into extracurriculars, trying at a ridiculously young age to "brand" yourself in some way — the jock, the entrepreneur, the techie, the actor. Even if your parents weren't the type to constantly nag and remind you about the importance of your grades, you grew up in a world that constantly nagged and reminded you. There are so many balls up in the air — your job, your community service hours, your application to that honors society, your quiz on Monday, your test on Tuesday, your practice after school, your make-up lab from the meet you got pulled out of school for, and on and on and on. There has never not been a time in the past four years, and possibly more, that the thought of them hasn't been gnawing at the back of your brain. When you hang out with friends, when you fall asleep at night, when you're sitting down to dinner with your family, there is really no leaving it behind. Crap. I didn't that online quiz, you realize, five minutes before the damn portal shuts down. Or the guilt that ebbs whenever you start having the slightest bit of fun: I should really be studying right now.
But you tell yourself it will all be worth it, when you have that admissions letter in your hands. You are taught that the world works somewhat like an equation. You do this, that, and the other thing, and it adds up to the future you built in your mind. You know that this is a process that disappoints people all the time, but there is some hopeful, private thought in the back of your head that it's not going to happen to you.
And then it does.
I'm not here to belittle the experience of rejection. I'm not going to tell you to chill. I'm not going to tell you to think about the kids who would be grateful to go to the school you ended up going to instead. I'm not going to subtly remind you of that one class you staggered along in sophomore year, or that summer internship you didn't take. I'm not going to say to you the number of things I remember hearing when I was rejected from all of my top choices, because unlike the people who said them to me, I am close enough to those years to remember that it only made things hella worse.
Because here's the thing: you're allowed to feel like crap about this. College admissions are somehow more personal than any rejection than you will ever get in your life, because you didn't just give them a part of yourself, like swiping on a Tinder profile or pitching an idea that got shot down. You gave them everything. Your past, your writing, your every combined effort for pretty much as long as you've been alive.
But I want you to take a step back from that "everything" that you gave them, and take a look at what it means — and more importantly, what it doesn't. These people deciding your future? They've never met you. They see a number on a piece of paper, but they don't see the way that chem class you bombed actually helped push you into a subject you ended up thriving in. They see the essay from the one or two narrow prompts they gave you, but they didn't hear you offer advice to your best friend that pulled her out of one of the hardest times of her life, or hear your opinions on anything that actually mattered. They saw a packet of papers, but they didn't see you — the angst of every decision you made, the passion you put into your pet projects, the way you feel about your family, your friends, your future.
They didn't reject you. They didn't even reject a vaguely you-shaped shadow. They were looking for a particular shape to fit into a particular hole that they needed to fill, and it happened to not be you — and even though it doesn't feel like it yet, you may have just dodged a bullet. Because "fitting in" somewhere may be the most boring and unproductive thing that ever happens in a person's life.
It's no wonder you're so concerned about where you end up in the months after graduation. You're conditioned to think that high school is the end of something, and the beginning of something else. But that beginning? No matter who you are or where you're going, it's just the first beginning down a long road of beginnings — all the opportunities and false starts and mistakes and memories you have yet to make. And yeah, if you got rejected from your top schools, it feels like someone moved the starting line. This isn't where you wanted to be, or where you imagined yourself. But that's the thing about starting lines — when the race starts, you just gotta go. It doesn't matter where the hell everyone else ended up. Just keep moving.
Because here is the ultimate spoiler alert: you and the kid who got into your dream school? At the end of the four years you spend there, your race ends in the exact same place. If you thought that getting into a certain school would somehow put you on a definitive path and shield you from the post-grad existential mess that is every character on Girls, I have some news for you. Those years are the great equalizer of twentysomethings from community college to Harvard. In your mind the school you go to and the major you choose is the first step on a long staircase to your career — the reality is you'll probably finish school and realize that the staircase you're looking for is in the wrong metaphorical building.
I don't say this to be grim, or to imply that college, should you decide to go, is a waste of time. I say this because whatever disappointing circumstances you are in right now are the very same circumstances that are going to help you kick the real world's ass.
So you didn't get what you wanted on the first try. As it turns out, that's going to happen a lot — and you'll be more and more prepared every time, starting right now. This is the moment the universe takes your cue — because this is the moment that it stops shaping you. For the first time, you get to shape it into whatever the hell you want. And I think, ultimately, that is the scariest thing about getting rejected from the schools you wanted to attend. The world conditioned you to want what you wanted, and now, instead, you're the one in control. In a way, you're in more control than the kids who did get what they wanted, because now you have this infinity of possibilities at your feet. Freaky, right?
You're allowed to be scared. You're allowed to be angry. You're allowed to lay on the floor of your bedroom and openly weep to Miley Cyrus's "The Climb" on repeat in your underwear. (Guilty as charged.) But when you're done with that, pick yourself up — because this isn't a rejection, really. This is an opportunity. Be proud of what you did, and be proud of where you're going. I know sometimes when you work hard and don't get what you wanted, it feels like it was all for nothing — but don't you dare undermine or discount all of the amazing things you did to get where you are right now. Someday they're going to count for so much more than a stupid letter from someone who never even bothered to learn your name.