i wanted to validate my sense of self-worth with college. it was a mistake.

It has been a couple of days since I received my last college decision, so I think I am sufficiently level-headed to blog now.

This post is pretty self-explanatory.

Tl;dr I applied to colleges to validate my sense of self-worth, and it backfired on me.

I applied to college for all the wrong intentions, and karma came back to haunt me. I overestimated myself and applied to elite colleges which left me stranded with an empty wallet. Then they came back to say I was not good enough. It should have been obvious from the very start, but when you hear success stories of people with lower grades and SAT scores being offered places to these colleges, you instinctively think to yourself, “oh hey, I could probably do this.”

We are told from the very beginning that the admissions process is a holistic review from your transcripts to the person you present in your application, so we all knew that our scores were only going to mildly impress them in the beginning. With the personal statement, they told us to be genuine. My character is not the kind of person colleges are looking for, but I tried anyway. When I showed my essays to my college counselor, she said with her characteristic cheery optimism, “this is great, but colleges might think you are still like this.” There are struggles we have overcome; there are struggles that we haven’t. My introverted nature is simply something that I have not been able to paint over with pretense. In this world, introversion is a weakness. In this world, being socially timid is a weakness. In some people, these weaknesses are not easy to overcome. Colleges tell us to apply and be genuine, but they look for a specific type of personality. The type who can mingle, the extroverted ones, the type elderly people will feel comfortable around, the type who can pull off the “how may I help you, sir?” smile with little effort. I am not that type of person. I cannot pretend to be that kind of person. I might have been able to bypass this requirement if I had won a global piano competition, or made some rare scientific discovery, or invented something to ferry elderly people to the bathroom easier, or performed open-heart surgery at the age of 14. But I am an ordinary person. I play an instrument, but I am not a prodigy. I get decent grades, but I am not a genius. I am not as special as that 5% of the applicant pool that is admitted. Why did I think I had a chance?

At a school like mine, where students are selected in an application process akin to college application processes, there is a sense of achievement having reached a place where students from 70+ nationalities congregate and discuss topics from politics to sustainability to social inequality etc. I am also constantly surrounded by a group of people who are extremely intelligent,  who are amazing poets, writers, musicians, athletes, or had impressive resumes from their past lives as thick as a novel. In other words, the sense of normalcy is skewed here. When I first arrived, I wondered, why did the Hong Kong national committee choose me? Why did I receive this opportunity over some of my friends, when they are so obviously better qualified for this kind of environment? I still have not figured it out. Here, it is normal to apply to at least one Ivy League. Most people applying to the UK apply to Oxbridge. I applied to Ivy Leagues and Oxford. Needless to say, I was not offered a place at any of those elite institutions when the end of March came around. But a number of my classmates and friends were admitted into the Ivy Leagues or other elite institutions, such as M.I.T and Stanford, and being a part of the group who aspired to get into these colleges but were unsuccessful is a reality check, a slap in the face followed by a jeering voice saying, “did you really think you were so special just because you got to go to UWC?”

I did not apply to the Ivy Leagues because I really thought I had a chance. I applied to the Ivy Leagues to measure my self-worth.

All college admissions are a gamble. If I was admitted, I would have something to prove to myself that I did belong at a place like UWC. I firmly believe I still could have gotten into the colleges I was fortunate enough to be offered a place had I stayed back home. But coming to UWC made me feel like I had to apply to an Ivy League school, which was a step higher than the schools I were aspiring to back home. If I had been admitted to an Ivy League, it would reinforce the sense of pride my family back home had in me going to UWC. If I had been admitted, it would justify all the time and effort I put into my IGCSEs, then my IBs, then my college applications. If I had been admitted, it would have proved that I deserved to be at UWC. I was there when my friend opened acceptance letters from Columbia, Princeton, and Harvard. I was there when he came into my room to tell me that he had been accepted to Stanford. He was also there when I opened my rejection letter from Yale, and got waitlisted at Cornell. I was extremely happy for him; I know he will continue to be absolutely fabulous wherever he decides to go. But in that moment, we were shown such a large difference in our achievements and our abilities, for a moment I almost doubted, am I even qualified to hang out with this guy? Relationships are not based upon which schools we get into, but let’s admit it, we all compare ourselves to one another, and we all wonder when we look at these achievers, why am I so hopelessly mediocre?

Even though everything is over and done with, I still ask myself, what could I have done to get admitted? What did they have that I did not? Did my application not reflect the strengths that I possess, or does it mean I must change as a person? I was reading an article recently that argued where you go to college does matter, but not for the reasons we think. About a third of all CEOs are apparently graduates of elite institutions, but it is not because they graduated from elite institutions that they were able to rise to the top, but because the college you go to reflects the person you are. So, those who go to Ivy Leagues have already become amazing people by the age of 18, and thus, they have success in the future. Does that mean that, as I am now, I am not a person worthy of success? If that is the case, then in what ways must I develop to become a person worthy to the admissions offices of the Ivy Leagues and of success?

Obviously, college is not the end of the road, nor will it absolutely determine what the rest of my future will look like. But college decisions hurt, and I know that some of my friends have had it even worse than I did, but this has been weighing on me for a while, and I just wanted to get it off my chest. Moral of story: Do not attach your self-worth to a college.

I have great options for next year, and I look forward to wherever I go in the fall. I hope my co-years feel the same, and I wish every single one of you the best of luck.

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3 thoughts on “i wanted to validate my sense of self-worth with college. it was a mistake.

  1. Jessica, you know I am never far behind with these lovely and raw blog posts of yours. This one is no different. You captured some good stuff here wallie! ❤ – Camille

  2. Lovely, heartfelt writing. I want to tell you what someone once told me: “Don’t boil yourself in too small a pot!” You call yourself “average,” but your writing sings. In times of disappointment, the Stoic philosophers are great comforts–one of the things they advise is never to give others (especially not an institution) the power to define you or to be the ultimate arbiters of your identity and worth. Only YOU get to do that. Best wishes for the next part of your journey. I look forward to reading future entries.

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