What I Learned About Myself from the College Application Process

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The last college decisions trickled into high school seniors’ mailboxes from late March to early April, which means that these college-bound students (including myself) are experiencing a wide range of emotions. For those who jumped out of their chairs after seeing the word “Congratulations” emblazoned across their screens, college acceptances are definitely a reason to celebrate. For those of us who received dreaded, mildly apologetic rejection emails from coveted schools, it’s easy to regret even applying to certain universities. If you fall in the latter category, remember that the act of completing college applications is an accomplishment in itself. As someone who was on the receiving end of both exciting and not-so-exciting news, I now have a better perspective on my college application process as a whole. Here are a few lessons that I learned simply by building my applications from scratch, which I would not trade for a thousand college acceptances.

1. I learned what kind of activities I wanted to become involved in during college. As I wrote essays about the clubs that meant the most to me throughout high school, I figured out what extracurriculars I wanted to explore or continue in college. For instance, as president of my high school’s Key Club, I realized that I wanted to contribute to my college community, whether I would be tutoring younger students or volunteering at a food pantry. As I reminisced about some of my more short-lived activities, I discovered that I missed being part of a choir during my freshman year and resolved to join an ensemble in college.

2. I realized that I did not have to decide what career to pursue just yet. Some college applications require students to check off their intended majors, but as I scrolled through these extensive lists, it became clear that one path could not encompass all of my interests. Since I love both politics and marketing, writing and graphic design, I chose a school that would allow me to pursue all of these without restricting my options.

3. I appreciated my teachers more than ever, since they were some of the largest influences on my interests. Choosing specific teachers to write my recommendations prompted me to reflect on my previous classes and the insights that I had gleaned from each one. Remembering my English and history teachers who offered me fundamental writing skills and my calculus teacher who was overly enthused about Euler’s Method, I understood that my teachers’ lessons mattered far more than the grades I received in each class.

4. My high school experience, it seemed, was good source material for a stand-up comedy routine ten years in the future. While brainstorming for potential essay topics, I remembered cringeworthy but amusing memories, including the time I entered a competition and gave an impromptu speech littered with “Black Panther” references, which my judges clearly did not understand. As a result of my musings, I have pages of notes on embarrassing but hilarious flashbacks from the past four years.

6. I learned how to share my experiences with a complete stranger through the interview process. It was hard to relate to a six-foot-two football player working for a hedge fund who I had thought was a girl by the name written on my interviewer’s email, but I quickly understood that age and experience were not barriers in conversations. Rather than listing random achievements or giving the typical “Where do I begin?” answer to my interviewer’s questions, I realized that the best way to establish a personal connection was to talk about my quirks and most memorable experiences. My interviews offered a glimpse into what job recruiting and intellectual discussions were like for college.

No matter what news you receive, know that a future full of possibilities awaits. While it may seem like a waste of time and energy after rejection, the college application journey is a unique exercise that helps students consider what their true desires and strengths are.