It's October, and if you're not freaking out about college applications, then well done, high school human. Between now and March is basically the most important time in your life — at least, it will feel that way because that's what everyone will be telling you. The comforting thing about college applications is that they're almost done, gone, and out of your life forever (or at least until grad school.) You've spent the last three years fulfilling all requirements: a solid GPA, extracurriculars, a non-embarrassing score on the SAT. All that you have left to do is present that information in a way that will make you look better than everyone else. Easy, right? I'll pause for you to nervous-puke.
I’m not here to advise that you should completely lie about who you are and falsify documents about your high school achievements, nor to claim to have completely fabricated a different persona to get into college myself. I am here to tell you that it’s okay to exaggerate about who you are, as long as you don’t do anything illegal or unethical, and that some of the things I wrote about myself were a little bit hyperbolic. Judge if you want, but hey – I got into college. It wasn’t Harvard or anything, but college is college is college. I got into a small, private four-year university in Orange County, graduated in 3 ½ years, and even managed to get into grad school which, for the record, I wouldn’t suggest doing unless you are one-hundred percent positive that it is the path you feel like trudging upon, because it’s hard and long (that's what she said) and time-consuming. College is a way more fun time, so if college is where you want to go, go for it! But it will require a lot of forethought, planning, and uh, improvising.
When I was applying to colleges, it was incredibly competitive, and it's only gotten worse from what I hear. My sympathy is with you, young applicants. Staying in state was even more competitive because in California, where I live, the universities are relatively awesome and affordable. I desperately wanted to get into UCSD or UCLA, and I knew that I had to stand out. We all have to stand out when applying to colleges because thousands upon thousands of students apply and we all more or less have the same story: we're a 17 year-old who is almost through with high school, an institution that taught us things we've already forgotten about. We all studied and took the SAT and now we want to go to college because society is screaming at us to do so. However, it's up to you to rebrand yourself.
I took a few liberties with my experiences and qualifications, but everything on my application was at least partially true. I made myself sound more amazing because I knew other were probably doing the same thing. Here's how it went down:
Who I was on my college application: A well-rounded student
I had a 4.0 average in high school, so it really did seem like I naturally excelled in all topics. Although I could never pull off nything higher than B in math, I got straight A’s in everything else, and took almost all AP classes offered at my high school.
Who I was in real life: Definitely not well-rounded
The only subject I truly did well in was English. DUH. I had to try very, very hard in all other subjects, because I had no natural inclination for math, science, or even history. To get an A in P.E., I had to attend extra credit make-up classes at the end of each semester because I had zero sports skills besides running. Basically, all I wanted to do was read books and poetically complain in my diary. Not exactly college material. I had to appear more multifaceted than that.
Who I was on my college application: A trophy-winning piano player
As a piano player who participated in highly competitive performances, I excelled in the art and dedicated hours upon hours of my free time to be the musician I wanted to be.
Who I was in real life: I placed third in one piano competition one time
To be fair, I did play piano from ages seven to fifteen. I hated playing piano with dedicated passion, but I did it anyway, because my mom forced me to. The competitions were super, super local, and the only award I won was my sophomore year. It was third place, and after I was given a sad little ribbon, I quit and I never looked back.
Who I was on my college application: A debate club champion and historian
I was on the debate team for three years, where I competed in national competitions and won all the awards. On top of that, I was the debate team's historian, an esteemed position that required hours of time and dedicated and loyalty. It was serious business.
Who I was in real life: I guess all of that, but basically due to blind luck
I won first place in JV Policy Debate my junior year of high school, but that was basically the only real award I won. I have no idea how I won that. I didn’t even understand half of the politics I was spewing at my opponent. I only joined the debate team because I thought the debate guys were hot and hoped I could date a few of them (I didn't *tear*). Also, the title of “historian” just translated into taking pictures of the team with my dad’s digital camera and crafting a Powerpoint at the end of the year. It's all how you spin it!
Who I was on my college application: An aspiring journalism student who contributed to the weekly high-school newspaper
I supposedly reported on everything from high-school politics, to pop culture fixations, to the War in Iraq. I was essentially a Pulitzer Prize waiting to happen.
Who I was in real life: I wrote two articles for the newspaper in my four years of attending high school
One article was about stalking boys on the Internet (this was a new thing in 2005, MIND YOU), and another was about how Britney Spears’ 2007 album was a major disappointment to the Britney community. Pretty groundbreaking work.
Who I was on my college application: A first generation daughter fully immersed and involved with her Russian culture and heritage
I supposedly spoke Russian fluently, and planned on traveling to Russia one day to embrace my roots. In my personal college essays, I wrote how growing up as a first generation daughter graduating high school made my parents’ eyes swell with proud tears every time they looked at my face, and how their cold, Soviet hearts warmed when I announced I would be studying in university to become an esteemed, serious writer.
Who I was in real life: A first generation daughter who wished nothing more than Burger King for dinner and a boyfriend without braces.
My Russian was and is terrible. I didn’t want to go to Russia because they probably didn’t have Livejournal and MTV there. My parents gave no shits that I would be graduating from high school. It was expected, much like how eating food to prevent starvation is expected. I really did tell my parents I wanted to become a writer, and like most realist immigrant parents, told me straight up that this was a hobby, not a career plan. However, it turns out that if you're crafty enough and want something really, super badly, you might just get it someday. Even if you have to stretch out the truth on your way to the top.
Images: Getty(2); Giphy (10)