I got into college. I still don’t believe it. Everything could’ve, should’ve and would’ve gone the other way.
I was rejected from my Early Decision school. A months-long spiral in which I questioned everything about myself ensued. Lots of tears were shed.
Then, three months later, my grades and extracurriculars and demographics the same, I was accepted to schools thought by some to be more selective. I was rejected and waitlisted by many more, including those supposedly easier to get into.
It’s a crapshoot, this college admissions process we dream about and dread. I wouldn’t be the first to point out its randomness, which also is ironic — disturbing yet simultaneously comforting.
What’s so brutal about this nearly six-month-long undertaking is that we start to believe that we have control over where we end up. After four years in the hyper-college-focused pressure cooker that is South, we’re convinced that getting into a school validates our efforts, our merit and even who we’ve become as a person.
In reality, however, whether we advance past the first round of admissions “reading” may have more to do with whether the personal statement, in which we tried so hard to portray our “true selves,” strikes a chord with the admissions officer.
Whether they get through our supplemental essays may not depend on the creative take on the topic we chose, but instead on factors beyond our control — perhaps they didn’t eat breakfast that morning and skimmed the rest of the file before heading to lunch.
These are humans on the other side of this process who are fallible; something is bound to get lost or misinterpreted, especially as they read an increasingly insane number of applications each year.
You also can’t predict who you’re compared against by the committee at the next round. Consider a group of great candidates they’ve identified — all with great test scores, excellent grades, and impressive extracurriculars. This is where we’re told we need the “it” factor, the extra-impressive insight or experience, something that makes us stand out.
But it’s impossible to know what they will want at that moment. These decisions come down to the “I already have a sports captain, so I don’t need another” sort of thinking or simply the committee’s overall hopes for the chemistry of the class. It’s impossible to know the profiles of everyone else who applies.
Sure, this randomness sucks because it doesn’t value the persona we’ve cultivated to reflect our proudest elements; we’re essentially selling ourselves to these schools without knowing what they need to buy. To me, this reality actually offers some relief.
When I came to understand that the admissions decision depended more on the judgment of overworked humans, probably high on caffeine, trying to shape their idea of a perfectly balanced class, than my individual profile, I believed in myself the most.
I realized that my potential and all I would add to a college campus depends not on how admissions officers see or rate it, but on what I know I’ve developed over the past four years, as I’ve grown into an adult.
And that, more than the validation or ego that this college process can boost, is what I’ve clung to and realized: These colleges aren’t the prize for us; we are for them.