With May 1st just a step away, I think it is worth reflecting on my college “process.” No single post can tell all the stories worth telling, but I can at least try.
Increasingly, the need to “get ahead” is taking shape at the lower levels of education. It is the whole concept of: if I go to a good pre-school, I’ll go to a good elementary/middle school which means I will go to a good high school and therefore a good college, followed by graduate school opening career options to make more money than my neighbor. Then again, the use of “I” is not quite appropriate. Often the parents are the ones that shape those decisions. Not too many pre-schoolers are looking out to be the top of their class so they can be on the right track to “success.”
It is almost as if each year of schooling is meant to weed out those not tough enough to make it on the next level. It naturally creates a spectrum of graduating students. It happens when moving into elementary (or K-8) school, high school, and college. Whenever you apply to the next level of schooling, you are guaging where you fall on that spectrum. Working hard to get good grades and what not is an attempt to move up that spectrum because only the best of the best (la creme de la creme, as the French would say) will get to best school in the next level. It has a lot to do with the pool of applicants at each stage of the process. To get into high school, you are competing with the people in your city. To get into college, you are competing with the rest of the country.
So, naturally, I ask: where did I fall on this spectrum? Or essentially, how did I do? I landed at Middlebury College, VT. That is very high up, and I count my lucky stars each day that I have this opportunity. Then again, the spectrum is made up of perception. What I see as a great school is not Harvard to some. It’s all relative. And that’s where University High School is skewed. We’re so caught up in our own world that we don’t realize or even appreciate that every single student in the graduating class has an amazing school to go to. We look around and see some of the brightest students and we compare. It’s a lose-lose situation: you feel bad when you are going to a “better” school than a friend yet also feel bad if you are not going to as good a school as your friend.
The schools on my original list were (in alphabetical order): Boston College, Carleton, Claremont McKenna, Cornell, Dartmouth, Duke, Haverford, Johns Hopkins, Lawrence, Macalester, Middlebury, Oberlin, Occidental, Pomona, Reed, Skidmore, Tufts, University of Chicago, USC, Vassar, Wesleyan, Whitman, and Williams.
All I knew was I wanted a fairly small school or medium sized school. Geographically, I didn’t care so much. I was looking for an academically rigourous school without the snobbery of a prestigious school (like I could get in anyway…). It took me awhile, but I realized that I wanted to be around down-to-earth people.
I ended up applying to (in alphabetical order): Boston College, Clarmont McKenna, Cornell, Dartmouth, Haverford, Johns Hopkins, Middlebury, Oberlin, Tufts, University of Chicago, Vassar, Wesleyan, Whitman, and Williams. That is a lot of schools to apply to but the competitive atmosphere makes it necessary.
There is only so much you can control about your application. The grades are done, the scores are in. The application writing is where one has the most short-term control and the main essay is perhaps the greatest portion of that. I wrote my essay based on an essay I wrote freshman year about a scandelous mishap at the SF Opera where I essentially missed a whole section of a solo in front of 3,500 people. It made for a good essay, if I do say so myself. I was also proud of my essay for the University of Chicago on “super-huge mustard” in which I used the quote:
“For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.” ~ New Testament, Matthew 17:20.
I also sent in a CD of my singing which I found to be an awful experience. I really hated the way I sounded on that CD. I had no emotion or shape in my voice. My song selection was good but to this day I can’t listen to it.
In the end, I didn’t go through anything traumatic. I played it by the book. Look. Apply. Get in. Go. And I couldn’t be any happier.