From September to December of senior year is arguably the most difficult and stressful time for students (except for maybe all of middle school). It is the peak season of the College Process, what many (wrongly) view as the culmination of five years of work. It is a time when we, as seniors, submit ourselves to judgment. More than anything else, however, it is a confusing time because the means by which certain students succeed and certain students don’t appear to be largely random and arbitrary. Of course, we try to make sense of it all; it is only human. We look into the abyssal machinations of admissions offices and try to divine their goings-on. We look at acceptance and rejection histories of people we know—who did what extra curricular and got what on what test and got what grade and took what classes—and try to stitch together patterns from arbitrary mysteries. It is natural, soothing, and reassuring to think that there is some logic to the process, and that we, even before we have officially emerged from the other side, can discern some of the mysteries. So we pretend we know everything to comfort ourselves that there is some logic, so that we may avoid letting go of the reigns of our educational path.
This is all well and good, with just one unfortunate side effect: everyone thinks they know everything, and everyone is just about always ready to tell you exactly what they know. What do I mean by this? Well, if you are a student in grades 10-12 (hopefully, this doesn’t happen at younger grades, but I wouldn’t be surprised), just try voicing some school related decision you must make (which class to take, what activity to do, who to ask for a recommendation, where to go to lunch), and see the response you get; I guarantee everyone in a 30 meter radius will eagerly take the opportunity to offer you unsolicited college admissions advice, presented in a matter-of-fact tone as if the giver were a Princeton admissions officer in the flesh. First of all, a disclaimer: I am not free of guilt in this matter (I believe it was Jesus Crist who said that “he without guilt should cast the first stone” but any stone on which I could print this column would be far too heavy for me to cast, so his point is moot). Voice any concern and you will understand what I mean: you’re thinking of ALC and Creative Writing? Everyone knows that colleges don’t accept people who take two English classes. You’re going to ask two humanities teachers for recommendations? Everyone knows that colleges will think you can’t count! You’re going to Q Marqet for lunch today? Well, have fun at community college.
There is a plethora of problems with everyone’s (read: most/some people’s) assumption of the role of the all-knowing college-admissions guru. First, it supposes that every school-based decision we make is inherently geared towards college admissions, which, though often true in the minds of Hunter students, is not always the case. “Should I take AP Cucumber Studies or Advanced Thyroid Drawing?” “Well, if you want to apply as a potential Vegetables Major, then I’d recommend AP Cucumber Studies because it looks more relevant and harder.” No! I don’t care what colleges think of my classes, I just want to take classes I like. If you want to tell me how the teacher of Advanced Thyroid Drawing gives unfair pop quizzes, fine (this would be a full year course, so these quizzes would be pretty in-depth), but please don’t relate everything in my education to college admission. If I want to know, I’ll ask.
The bigger problem, however, is that there is never any factual basis for these nuggets of wisdom aside from “one older person I know had a similar choice and that decision led to this outcome,” which, let’s be honest, means nothing in the nebulous realm of college admissions. This “wisdom” inherently does not come from personal experience, as one of us have fully gone through the process fully, so no one should know too much more than I, which is not much. I understand that this is a confusing time for everyone, and we want to try to convince ourselves and others that we are in control of a largely uncontrollable process. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean we can, nor does it mean we should, scrutinize previous cases of college admissions to glean tendencies and patterns. Just because you know someone who got into this one college doesn’t mean you can prescribe what every admissions board wants. Our desire to turn every person into a statistic in the grand pseudoscience of college admissions is just a high school students’ natural desire to mentally claim control in one of the few areas where we have none.
So please, if you overhear someone talk about a decision they make, please don’t presume it’s college related and offer them your insight into what some college admissions board (most likely Harvard/Princeton/Yale because, hey, that’s what US News and World Report told us) would think about it. And please, please, no matter what happens to me, don’t use me as an example; we as students are all more than statistics in some fallacious and diminutive alchemy experiment, and let’s learn to appreciate our education in and of itself.
Charlie Bardey, Age 17, Grade 12, Hunter College High School, Silver Key