I recall trying to remember a plethora of information as I applied to various universities during my senior year. The ACT, GPA, campus life, academics, financial aid, scholarships, FAFSA, extracurriculars, essays, ranking, value, deadlines… the list ventured on forever, it seemed.
There were moments when indecision and anxiety were looming shadows in the background as black ink blurred on the page or computer screen. Midst the insanity that is the college admissions process, I eked out few precious moments of lucidity—moments I then considered as foolish, labeled as procrastination or “giving up,” moments when I felt free from the weight that had taken residence in my chest.
As I saw classmates and friends receive letters from dream colleges, some with decisions finalized and others assured of their options, I considered myself disillusioned. Every rejection and acceptance letter alike felt erroneous. I thought I had not worked hard enough to get into my dream school or receive full merit scholarships, and “safety” schools became menacing as friends were accepted into their first choices.
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I only understood nearly a year later (thriving at my “safety” school!), that it was not ignorance but irrelevancy that often overshadowed those long hours of agonizing over every letter received and university considered.
It was irrelevant whether a school ranked in the top 30 or top 300, or how everyone else would perceive whatever college I ultimately decided to attend. It was irrelevant that my “dream university” chose to reject me because another student’s profile was better suited. It was irrelevant to question whether my GPA was high enough or my extracurricular activities sufficient enough. They were all trivialities because I could do nothing further than putting forth my best effort.
Whatever particularity of whatever college, not every aspect of it will be perfect. A plethora of articles exist out there, reviewing everything from financial aid to campus life. Yet, none ever seem to mention what shouldn't be prioritized. Is the prestige worth the hefty price tag? Should I sacrifice Greek life for academics? Are dorms or food to be considered? Perhaps a nice, private college on the north coast is better off than a state university—but wait—what about the weather? Hundreds, thousands, of such questions plague seniors, locusts that suddenly appear during lunch and bedtime, in the shower, and while in fourth period.
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And while each choice is individualistic to a large extent, what are we supposed to neglect? Is there anything to disregard (besides our sanity)? What do you do when the pros and cons, the discontent questions, the countless hours of philosophical thought that do not amount to anything?
What do you do?
You persevere. You find the irrelevancy.
Academics vs. sports, food vs. dorms, size vs. location, the list goes on and on, and every article seems intent on emphasizing every possible bit of the importance of financial security or academic strengths (rightly so, since college is a four to five year investment), but none seem to recall the importance of letting go.
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Perhaps you didn’t get into your dream college, physically or financially. Perhaps you read Aristotle’s Politics, and discovering that your engineering dreams are gone, the loan that was feasible a mere day ago would be brutality with a philosophy major (likely a stereotype, but more on that some other time). Perhaps your fingers truly can’t stand a brutal, northern winter.
Whatever the “perhaps,” there will always be a “because.” Perhaps you do not want to attend that glitzy university because you’ll rather enjoy a less competitive environment. Perhaps you’d rather go to a small school because of the close-knit community.
Discover the “because” and you’ll discover the irrelevancies that suddenly surround every choice. We spend so much time focused on when something fails, that we become oblivious to a new door that has opened. We stop seeking out the irrelevancies and become deprived of the positive aspects that remain.
Writing one year after rejection from my dream university and having refrained from attending target schools due to financial reasons—by putting aside the insignificant aspects of my current university— I discovered numerous positive aspects. Suddenly, it was irrelevant that it possessed no high ranking because instead of “prestige" it offered small class sizes where only professors, not teachers assistants (TAs), taught.
It was irrelevant that the campus was considered inferior in beauty to others because the academics were far more enriching. Prestige no longer mattered because I cared for genuine interest from professors. Beauty no longer mattered because I sought out academic strengths instead.
To high school juniors and seniors, there will not always be a paved path to follow. No matter how carefully the stones are laid, cracks are bound to slip through, but sometimes, it’s all right to let yourself explore them. Explore the irrelevancies, push aside the stones and peek inside the cracks.
You can never discover the hidden world that lies under the weight of perception and expectations unless you dare to slip beneath it.