With December comes a whole slew of things: the holiday season, the end of the year, and winter break among other things, but for some seniors, the dreaded college decision.
For most people, waiting to hear back from colleges is stressful to say the least. They’re like the gatekeepers deciding what your next four years will be like (well, at least that’s what it seems like in our naïve teenage minds). To the juniors who laugh at our pain, just you wait until you step in our shoes.
I know many seniors who are paranoid about the statistics behind applying to colleges. They look at acceptance rates and groan at their chances. They compare their test scores and GPA with the advertised averages and beat themselves up over not spending hours over test prep books. They look at forums and hear about people with better stats than they do get rejected.
In my opinion, worrying about that is pointless.
The numbers that really matter aren’t the 2400 (or the 1600 nowadays) on the SAT or the 5s on countless AP exams. They’re not the 800 on the SAT Subject Tests nor are they 36 on your ACT. They’re the 1’s and 0’s that are electronically shipped to the university of your choice in the form of your essays, be they emboldened or uninspired, and your letters of recommendation, be they beaming or lifeless.
I’d like to put a disclaimer on this though: Obviously, I am not in admissions so I am not familiar with the ins and outs of the decisions process nor is this applicable to all colleges (some colleges like Caltech are more focused on the numbers game), but I have done my fair share of research and background checks—hours of browsing forums, looking at Common Data Sets, and asking admissions officers—to be somewhat confident about the importance of essays in deciding on who will have the ‘Accepted’ box checked by the time the deadline rolls around.
Admissions officers accept people, not numbers. Applicants are more than just a laundry list of stats waiting to be ticked off for your spot in the upcoming class. Oh, Brandon is 10 points shy of a 1350? Seems like an unqualified applicant to me. No, they’re not going to do that (at least I hope not). Even in more selective colleges, I am under the impression that scores are solely just a qualifier that puts you into consideration; that’s not saying that you should be complacent with standardized testing and school in general, but the way you present yourself – your personality, your values, your interests – can impact the ad com’s perception of you. You’re more than just a set of numbers.
But with this comes a strong opinion that I firmly hold: people shouldn’t have a ‘dream school.’ Sure, it’s great to have your sights set on a school or two, but it makes the wait more like a painful nightmare rather than a potential dream. Getting waitlisted or rejected becomes all the more heartbreaking if you hold a school in such high regard. I’ve heard stories of people wallowing in misery because of this. Don’t base your happiness on where you’re headed before you even have an opportunity to experience the college for yourself. Don’t have dream schools; have dream college experiences.
Philosophers and cosmologists believe in something called the multiverse theory, where all the potential outcomes of a decision exist in some other universe out there. So in all the existences dealing with you, the prospective applicant, there is one where you get accepted to your top school. There is one where you get accepted to a few matches, but no reaches. And there is one where you only get accepted to your safety.
But one thing’s for sure. The only constant between all these potential existences is you. As sappy and trite as this may sound, the next four years will be what you make of it. Go do.