One student I read about online was conducting research to find a cure for diabetes. Others had broken national records in track and field while maintaining a 4.0 GPA. The definition of a “successful” high school student had never seemed more awe inspiring, but also intimidating.
My parents raised me to believe there was a sure-fire way to succeed: plan ahead, earn straight As and commit yourself to activities you love. But a visit to collegeconfidential.com at the beginning of my junior year damaged my confidence. Though it was supposed to be a site with information about colleges, College Confidential made me feel like I didn’t have what it took to get into a good college.
When I entered high school I promised myself I would never do something just to impress some college admissions officer. I wanted admissions officers at my dream schools like Stanford or Yale to want me at their colleges because I was able to challenge myself and explore interests that made me happy instead of filling a resumé with meaningless titles.
During a club fair at the beginning of freshman year the upperclassmen promised that Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) “would look great on the college application.” It bothered me that club members were pushing how good joining would look to colleges more than what we would do in the club. But as my friends turned in their club applications, I didn’t want to be left behind, so I also joined FBLA, Model United Nations (MUN) and Key Club. I justified joining the college-obsessed crowd by telling myself that as someone interested in law and business it was good to get experience in debate, business and communications.
Luckily I ended up finding activities I genuinely liked. Interviews and photo assignments for yearbook filled the afternoons of my freshman and sophomore years. I loved staying in the pressroom past dinnertime typing captions and editing articles on deadline.
I spent my weekends at Model United Nations competing in UN mock committees. I developed such an interest in politics that I interned for my state senator.
When junior year started, I struggled with AP Chemistry and Spanish. Once MUN and FBLA kicked into high-gear, I began to hate the clubs that I used to like.
One evening in September of junior year my mom sent me a link to collegeconfidential.com. The “chance” forums, in which students share accomplishments while comparing chances of getting into colleges, made me feel like I wasn’t doing enough. I spent two hours staring at student profiles that featured near-perfect SAT scores, rows of 5s (the top score) on AP exams, national championships in debate or compelling stories about medical missions to developing countries.
I felt like my activities weren’t as impressive
Being president of my high school Model United Nations, which I used to be really proud of, didn’t seem so impressive after I read about the student who would be going to the actual United Nations in New York to present a speech on microeconomics.
Even though I felt worse about myself after every visit, I couldn’t stop going to College Confidential. My interests seemed boring now—every high school has yearbook editors. But not many teens can say they published a children’s book like one student had. Within a month I was going on four to five hours a week. I couldn’t imagine how these students had enough hours in the day to accomplish so much. But they probably weren’t killing time refreshing College Confidential every five minutes.
I shared my insecurities with some of my friends but mostly my mom. My friends laughed and told me that junior year was just making me dramatic. However, my mother reminded me that I’ve always worked hard and that it’d be a waste not to do everything I could to keep getting straight As.
After reading about the accomplishments of these students on College Confidential, I wanted to make Civic Bridge (a website I created for middle school students to post local news) much bigger. I envisioned it spreading to other schools or even other cities and inspiring young people to become more active in their communities.
In late November after another depressing browse through a “chance” thread, I decided to block College Confidential from my browser. Why had I been going out of my way to upset myself? If a college doesn’t think I’m good enough, so be it. The things I’m involved in make me really happy.
Even though Civic Bridge never got beyond Walnut, it was exciting to the middle school students I worked with. It was awesome when a student who thinks he is limited to math and science tells me he likes writing. Civic Bridge let me pass on what I loved most about journalism: talking to people and sharing their stories.
Looking back I feel foolish about how I let some website with the words of strangers affect me so much. I was annoyed with how easily I had overlooked all I had going for me. Even now in my last semester, I can’t think of a better way to finish high school than meeting with my Civic Bridge staff, competing at MUN conferences and finishing the last batch of yearbook proofs. As excited as I am about college, I’m glad I realized that the admissions process didn’t mean I had to stop dedicating myself to activities I love.