College application season is a silly, silly time. There are countless forms to fill out, so many nitty-gritty questions that have no direct answers, and seemingly never-ending periods of time during which you have to squeeze your brain out onto paper. People are tense, careful about how they phrase things during conversations with even their closest friends, and particularly sensitive to any type of criticism they might receive, constructive or not, from their parents or teachers.
I’ll tell you what the worst part of it is. No, it isn’t writing a myriad of tiny essays with limits of 200 words that you try to squeeze your personality into and it isn’t paying hundreds of dollars to submit essays to schools you don’t even know if you’ll get into. It’s the wait. It’s the weeks and months of constantly refreshing your email, as if the more times you refresh, the faster you would get to know your decision. It’s constantly stalking Reddit pages for even the most minuscule updates. It’s being unable to sleep at night despite being in bed for hours.
Spoiler alert: you finally now know where you’ll be this fall. It’s a school you’ve mostly seen through the screen, covered by typical New England weather and full of people who hopefully will become your new family. Going through high school, you envisioned this moment as some kind of conclusion. But life has not drastically changed. You still sit in the same chair in front of the window every day, staring at a couple of screens for five hours or so, and maybe eat some snacks or drink some water at certain intervals. But not much has changed. Perhaps the pandemic has made this time particularly underwhelming. Maybe it would feel different if it were a regular non-social-distancing year, in which you could go out and celebrate with family and friends, go to the campus to buy new merchandise, and finally go out to do all the things you wanted to when you weren’t as busy. But I guess you’ll never know.
I’ll also tell you what the best part of it is. Now I get to look back: not only on the past six months of college application grinding, but also to that time in freshman year when I stayed up all night working on a current events project, that time in sophomore year when I cried over a bad grade on a science test, or that time in junior year when I didn’t want to sing a parody of a Taylor Swift song about war but did it anyway. I get to look back and say, “Wow, I really did that.” As much as I want to say that now it doesn’t matter whether I lost sleep from that project or got a bad grade on that test, that would be a lie.
Maybe I’d like to think that they don’t matter because they won’t affect the outcome of what school I go to anymore, but I know that they matter because amidst the fixation on GPA and grasping for those extra credit points, there was a lot that I learned from them. I know that if I drink 3 cups of water before 11 PM, I can effortlessly stay awake until 2 AM without crashing. I know that even if hope for the best after bubbling C to a question I don’t know the answer to, I’m not always going to be right. Maybe the lessons that I have just listed, and the many others that I have not, may not seem as important as knowing that the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell or what poleis is. They may not seem like they matter as much, but to me, it’s almost all the same.
More importantly, my actions have become more intentional. I can know for sure that the volunteer work, sports, and hobbies I do when I get a chance aren’t being done solely to earn a line on my resume so that colleges can think, “I guess Michelle Lee is a well-rounded person who does volunteer work, sports, and hobbies.” Someone once told me that if what I’m doing with my time can’t be written up and sent to college admissions officers, I’m wasting my time. Perhaps that verbal push was a huge reason I am able to say that I’m going to where I’m going next year. However, I don’t want to constantly have others’ opinions dictate my actions.
I don’t feel like the conclusion you were expecting is here yet. Maybe that comes with actual graduation, a day that I hopefully get to spend hugging my lovely six friends in a crowd of my class of 315 seniors, who I know have worked just as hard in their own way for the past four years. Rather, I now can more clearly see an exciting new beginning up ahead, one that will surely prompt me to write more long-winded letters to myself.