College is confidential

Oh Whale!

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College is confidential

Michyla Lin

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On April 1st, I sat at my dining table locked in a staring contest with a Google spreadsheet highlighted in red, yellow and green. I was losing. This spreadsheet was the source of my anxiety over the past four years of my life, keeping me awake with stress induced insomnia, triggering full blown meltdowns over missing assignments and leaving me so utterly exhausted and confused to the point that I began to question why I ever tried in school at all.

You might be wondering why a single digital document could have so much power over me, and as my eyes skimmed over the columns, so did I.

If you haven’t guessed already, this spreadsheet was my college acceptance organizer: 26 alphabetically sorted rows, correlated to schools I applied to, colored red, yellow and green to denote which schools I had been rejected from, waitlisted at and accepted into respectively. And per my previous statement about losing, it was mostly red.

Though I expected to get rejection letters, nothing could have prepared me for the feeling of pure dread that sat on my chest and got heavier each time I read the words “we regret to inform you…” For some schools, the weight only shifted slightly, though for others, it felt like an entire football team decided to dogpile on top of the already crippling weight that began to fuel my anxiety. The pressure got to a point that I couldn’t even recognize a success when I did get to highlight a row green.

For the entire month of March, I was in a bad mood. Every other day, I heard whisperings of people saying so-and-so got into Harvard, Yale, MIT, UCLA… One day, two people I barely ever talk to stopped me and somehow decided they knew my college acceptance results before I did, telling me that they heard I got into Cornell. It struck me as odd that other people somehow were more interested in my college acceptances that I was.

I broke under the weight when my mom asked me if I wanted to try reapplying to some schools I was rejected from for the spring semester. She didn’t mean to offend me, she only meant to remind me I had options if I wasn’t satisfied with the results I had received, but for some reason, my mind managed to change the meaning of this simple statement of fact. In my head, I heard “You could have done better.”

I spent that day alone, trying and failing to silence the voice in my head telling me “I’m a failure.” However I was fortunate enough to have close friends who spoke to me and helped me put things into perspective. One of these friends was an alumni who graduated the previous year who gave me an integral piece of advice.

“The college you get into doesn’t define who you are.”

Seems logical enough, though why was this so hard for me to understand?

I came to the realization that our community somehow all agreed upon this backward notion that college ranking somehow translated to success and a part of our identities. For some reason, students were getting satisfaction out of knowing they were going to a better school than their peers, which in my eyes is a toxic form of academic competition that our school community allows to slip through the cracks, but why is this the norm?

My concerns are not just a mere personal concern. I am well aware that the Center for Disease Control (CDC) cites the Silicon Valley as the rising youth suicide capital of the U.S., however, what hurts me is that nobody seems to believe that this hyper-competitive environment, while perhaps not as extreme as that of Gunn High School, may be doing more harm than good. What we experience here in the Bay is not a unique form of intellectual bullying, it’s just that we prefer to label it as something else: competition.

Competition is not inherently bad. It challenges us to improve our abilities and explore new paths of thought, but when competition begins to mean we are willing to put someone else down in order to boost our own self-esteem, it becomes an issue that needs to stop before we begin to view each other more as rivals rather than peers.

To less eloquently paraphrase something my teacher once said, what matters about college is not the ranking or the numbers, it’s about the experience. Whether you end up going to the ivy leagues or a community college, your life is ultimately just that: entirely your own. Your career path is not entirely dependent on getting into a good school;, after all, your college counselor isn’t the one going to interviews. It’s up to you to build your experience, work towards your own goals, academic or not,  and figure out what you want to do in the future.

If there is one thing I want people to take away from this, it’s that life is catching up to us, and we don’t have time to waste looking down on others when we should be looking at ourselves. Take time to evaluate where you are in your own life. Are you personally happy with where you are? Are you going to college for yourself?

There comes a time when we need to recognize that defining ourselves as “better than” will not be able sustain us as we move forward in life. So to those who may feel uneasy about college, whether you’re just beginning the application process or are wrapping up the high school chapter of your lives,

Oh Whale,

No matter where you end up going, remember that if you’re always looking down, you’ll miss the best parts about growing up.