I had expected to feel anxious. Or excited. Or relieved. Or something a little stronger than ambivalent. My whole life had led up to this moment. Three years of cramming, of freaking out, of constantly feeling like there was more I could and should be doing. Five years of community service I didn’t do out of the goodness of my heart. Nine years of violin lessons even though I had wanted to quit after four. Eleven years of being a Girl Scout – please don’t judge me – because it shows “wholesomeness” and “continuity” and “leadership.”
But as my cursor hovered over the maroon submit button and my mom hovered over my shoulder, I was not compelled to go back and check for grammatical errors for the hundredth time. My palms didn’t start to sweat, my heart didn’t race, and I did not feel as if a great burden had been lifted off of my shoulders. When I clicked submit and my mom asked me how I felt, the most accurate response I could come up with was, “eh.”
A few “Just applied to college!” texts later, I flipped open my math binder and started the homework due the next day. I almost felt like I should have been freaking out – god knows six months ago I would have been. But when it came down to it, it was just another thing. It was just another task crossed off of my multi-colored To Do list. It was just one of ten applications I’ll be submitting if I don’t end up getting in. And that’s the thing – either I will get in, or I won’t.
Is it my dream school? Yes.
Do I really, really want to go there? Yes.
Do I think it’s perfect for me? Yes.
Am I going to be just as happy somewhere else? Yes.
While the prospect of being judged is terrifying, at the end of the day, the admissions people aren’t judging us – they’re judging our applications. Seventeen years of relationships made and broken, of opinions formed and reformed, of questions asked and answered cannot possibly fit within the confines of the Common Application. There is no way for them to know my favorite joke, or the fact that Sal knows my drink order when I walk into the deli, or how I reread the entire Harry Potter series during last year’s spring break, or my thoughts on the NSC regulations, or that I’m afraid of the color orange, or how I once sprained my ankle doing a cartwheel in my kitchen. There is no way for them to know me.
What can be read quickly and used to compare us to each other, however, are the numbers we have been compressed into and the 650 words whose boundaries we have tried to squeeze our “Why Me?” essays into.
Just because our applications flatten us does not mean we have to allow ourselves to be. We are more than our applications. I’m not saying that it will be easy to remember this as the date crawls closer to December 15th—because it won’t be. I have no doubt that the fear and anxiety and dread will begin to set in as the prospect of rejection becomes more real, but we do not have to let them dominate us.
A rejection letter is not equivalent to failure. It is not an indication that we’re not smart and qualified and special, because we are. Going to a certain school is not going to dictate my happiness unless I allow it to. Will you?