I applied to Stanford under the Restrictive Early Action program in which I was limited to only one private college in the early round; public colleges were still fair game, but it did still feel as if I was putting all my eggs into one basket. One giant, overwhelming, stress-inducing basket. Even after methodically revising my essays and short answers, after spending time prepping and retaking SATs and ACTs, I still felt a sense of apprehension, insecurity when I submitted my Common App to the west coast on November 1st. the deadline day. In fact, I remember sending my friend Kris a screenshot of the “Great Job! Your Application is Submitted” email with a caption along the lines of “I just wasted 90 bucks, lol.”
Somehow, I managed to push it to the back of my mind (read: repressed) in lieu of other worries (read: physics) in my senior year. Other than a few close friends and teachers, I didn’t even tell anyone that I applied to Stanford, and if I did, I reflexively put a disclaimer on it—“Yeah, there’s no way I’m getting in though”—and tied it together with a nervous chuckle and a scratch on the head. I might as well save myself the embarrassment of having to say that I didn’t get in.
I waited out the days until the REA decision. To be honest, as the date got closer, I grew more and more ambivalent about the entire ordeal, not because I didn’t care about it but because I was so heavily expecting a rejection. Heck, even a deferral would’ve made my day. There’ll be other colleges, I reassured myself whenever the topic popped into my mind.
I saw on the Stanford Admission twitter that “REA decisions for #Stanford2021 will be released Friday, December 9 at 3:00 p.m. PST.” I had only found out that day on the bus ride to our county SGA meeting while I was passing the time by listening to music and browsing Reddit. Somebody had linked the tweet in r/ApplyingtoCollege, but I immediately closed it after I finished reading it.
I felt off for the rest of the day. I constantly checked the time for 6 o’clock EST to roll around. Not even five minutes had passed before I would check my phone again, ignoring the problems and successes within good ol’ Chuck County (some delegate, I was). Even though I didn’t hear the worrying machinations of a clock, I internalized my own countdown, but it was more of a time bomb than anything else. Don’t expect anything much. Tick. There’s absolutely no way that you’re getting in. Tock.
Don’t expect anything much. Tick. There’s absolutely no way that you’re getting in. Tock.
When I got back to school, I went through the motions until I got home. It was a Friday afternoon, so I immediately got into my routine of lunch and a nap. Despite my being tired, I still heard it. What a waste of time and money. Tick. In a few hours, you’re going to be disappointed. Tock. Eventually, I managed to fall asleep.
I woke up at 5:30-ish. In an effort to wait out the Countdown, I went to the basement to play video games (if you’re wondering, I was focused on getting to Byrgenwerth in Bloodborne). For some reason or another, I ignored it, but inevitably, the thought crossed my mind again. I glanced at the clock.
It was 6:02. I went to an enemy-free zone before I dove for my phone. I searched ‘Stanford Admissions’ and watched the blue loading bar travel across the top of my screen. Tick. I frantically typed my email and my password. Tock. I took a big sigh and closed my eyes. I pressed the “Login” button and opened them.
“Congratulations! You have been admitted to Stanford’s Class of 2021!”
I was surprised. I managed to get into Stanford. As in “the less than 5% acceptance rate” Stanford. As in “the birthplace of Silicon Valley where Hewlett, Packard, Brin, and their genius contemporaries slept, ate, and created” Stanford. The very same.
But I didn’t have time to be excited. No, I felt far from it. I noticed something else that did not put me at ease. It didn’t stop, and what was worse was what it became: I couldn’t help but feel the annoying tick tock turn into a more disturbing and chilling tune: Why? How?
Even though I hurriedly told a few close friends and family, pangs of insecurity and self-doubt gnawed on me from the inside as if a bomb really had gone off. This was supposed to be different, I thought. I imagined that I would be ecstatic. I would be California-bound, ready to declare myself a Tree right then and there, but no.
Of all the people, why you? How in the world did you get in?
I tried to keep my decision on the down low. Other than the aforementioned people, I kept my mouth shut. If they heard, it wasn’t from me. When people asked where I was headed after graduation, I refused to answer definitively. “Still waiting on some decisions and considering my options,” I said as I dodged their question. December 9th was supposed to be a life-changing day for the better, but all it did was tear me down. The “Countdoubt,” which I had amusingly called it as a coping mechanism, ticked overbearingly onward.
Each piece of correspondence stamped with the Stanford tree still failed to drive home the fact that I got into this intimidating beast of an institution. 44,073 hopefuls applied to Stanford this year. Within that group were pioneers who had gotten their own startup, leaders who had distinguished themselves worldwide, and geniuses who were already well into the highest echelons of Calculus, Physics, and all things science. I’ve heard profiles of students who have done enough in their short seventeen, eighteen-some years of life to overshadow my pathetic excuse of an application many times over. 2,050 applicants in the entire world were accepted, and they wasted one of those spots on me?
2,050 applicants in the entire world were accepted, and they wasted one of those spots on me?
The next four months were filled with questioning and doubt. I lost nearly all motivation to do anything but the bare minimum. I kept my grades up and I participated in extracurricular activities still, but I lacked the drive that I once had. Empty and inferior, I always felt the need to compare myself to everyone. The flood of Why’s and How’s resonated dissonantly in my head.
If I wanted to fix this, I had to get some answers, have a sense of finality. I booked a flight to San Francisco International leaving the second day of spring break, ready to put an end to the incessant, self-deprecating monologue welling inside me.
I mustered up the courage to open the door. I told the secretary my name, and she almost immediately produced a packet with my name already written in black marker. Shortly thereafter, I heard a voice coming down the stairs: “You must be Justin. Great that you managed to come out to the Farm. My name is Jaime Meline.” The Assistant Director of Admission herself came to greet me.
“You’re from Maryland, so your regional admissions officer is Debra von Bargen who’s also the Assistant Dean of Admissions” she explained. “She sadly couldn’t make it—she’s busy looking over transfer applications—but she wanted me to congratulate and welcome you to Stanford. She thoroughly enjoyed your application and was sorry she couldn’t come meet you.”
I blinked and in surprise, said, “Really?”
“Yes,” Ms. Meline responded with a smile. “She wanted to tell you personally, but once again, she’s busy.” She moved the conversation to Outside Admit Weekend, which classes I could visit, what time the tour is, but my mind lingered on what she had just said. I honestly couldn’t believe it. Out of the hundreds, maybe thousands of applications that she had to scan through, mine was apparently one worthy enough to be remembered.
After going through the contents of the packet together, she gave me directions: “turn right from here and walk up Galvez Street until you reach the Visitor Center and that’s where the tours start.” As I bid her farewell and left the room, all of my anxiety within my body had left.
I walked to the Visitor Center, admiring the mission architecture and palm trees that decorated the entirety of the campus. As I walked in, I heard a ding and a bout of congratulations as I saw a seventeen year-old blushing. I read the nearby sign: “Ring the bell if you’re an admitted student!” The workers there asked me if I needed any help, and I looked at them and smacked my hand down on the counter. I was greeted with open arms and another loud roar of “Hoorah’s” and “Good Job’s” before they gave me information about any guided tours.
I had gotten there early, so they informed me that the tour wasn’t for another twenty minutes. I chilled at the track close by where I saw three monuments. Shaped almost like an amphitheater, these erected monuments honored Stanford athletes who eventually became US Olympians. While I was staring at the countless names, I heard a crowd of people gathering behind me. I moved to the back a few minutes before 11 when the Visitor Center vomited out tens of people ready to see the Californian university.
A man equipped with a microphone introduced himself as a Stanford alumnus of ’88 as he went through his description of all things Stanford—history, accomplishments, his personal experience, everything. Though proud of his alma mater, he was sort of stalling since they had to get another tour guide to accommodate everyone, but he enthusiastically talked nonetheless.
When he arrived at the topic of admissions, he went through the usual stuff: the requirements, GPA/test scores, deadlines, everything that I had to go through. He finally arrived at the topic of Stanford’s acceptance rate, understating that “it is very selective.” As he continued with statistics, he paused for a second before throwing a question out to the crowd. “Are there any admitted students visiting?”
Half the crowd was frantically turning their heads at breakneck speeds to scour the sea of people for someone lucky enough to say that this campus could be theirs. I raised my hand. The same kid from earlier did too. With a grin, the alum pointed us out and said, “Congratulations. Welcome to Stanford.”
A deafening wave of applause accompanied him in commending me, and I’d be lying if I said that I also didn’t have a stupid smile on my face. It probably lasted for five seconds, but to me, it felt like forever. He continued on with his speech after the clapping died down, but I noticed that something else ceased: the Countdoubt.
I’m currently typing this up at San Francisco International waiting for my flight to take me to Dallas and then Reagan. Although I may be leaving California right now, I assure you that I will be making this trip numerous times over the next four years.
As cliché as this sounds, my time at Outside Admit Weekend put to rest all the insecurities I had about getting in. Each and every person there, be it an admissions officer or a student volunteer, was genuinely excited to see me again next year as a full-fledged Tree. Everyone here is ready to empower you, to embolden you, to watch you learn, laugh, and grow, not because they’re obligated to but because they wholeheartedly believe that you, of all people, belong here.
Stanford prides themselves in saying that they “don’t make mistakes.” In the Class of 2020 Opening Convocation, Richard H. Shaw, the Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid, said that each applicant was chosen by the admissions committee who “listened to [our] voice, [our] individuality, [our] perspective, [our] life experiences, [our] sense of humor, [our] hopes and dreams, and [our] heart.”
Since December, Stanford has had more hope in me than I’ve ever had in myself.
With every step I took on the campus, I felt validated. Each breath of the California air was well-deserved and earned. The warmth of the Golden State’s sun reassured me that Stanford did not make a mistake on December 9th, that I can count myself among the 2,050 pioneers, leaders, and geniuses who were lucky—no—driven, brilliant, unforgettable enough to earn their spot and be able to call Stanford home. And I promise you, I will.
– Respectfully yours,
Justin Cortez, Stanford Class of 2021