For high school seniors, the day of reckoning is approaching. It is THE day. It is the day that can make or break you. It can determine your future. It is the most stressful day of the year–the waiting, the worrying, the checking, the smiling, the laughing, the frowning, the crying. It is the most important day of senior year, and some seniors may say it is the most important day of their young lives. I’m surprised we don’t all have ulcers yet, considering how much this day is hyped up. This day can be the scariest, happiest, and saddest day all at once. It is the day to end all days: December 15. And as we approach December 15, 2010, I have some thoughts on the college process and our school culture surrounding college.
I can’t deny that getting Early Decisions back is a crucial moment, and a big day for seniors; I am waiting to hear from schools on that day just like any other senior. The issue is not the importance of this day, but the secrecy and obsession that surrounds it. At Scarsdale, we are trained from an early age that our focus is getting into college. We take the right classes, do the right sports, join the right clubs, take the cool summer trips, and mold ourselves into the perfect candidates to get into college. It becomes an obsession to have the “perfect” resume, and that obsession comes to a culmination during junior and senior year. The stress is palpable during junior year–taking SATs as many times as possible, reading chapters upon chapters of US history every night, and beginning to pick out the best university. The anxiety and tension peaks during fall of senior year when applications are looming, ATs are demanding, and extracurricular activities are busier than ever. Getting an acceptance letter becomes the largest focus, and learning, sleeping, and relaxing take a back seat. It becomes an unhealthy culture that permeates senior year, and we seem to accept that as a norm.
The other norm of senior year, and of Scarsdale, is the secrecy behind the college process. We work hard to create the best application possible, and then few are willing to discuss it. It is a silent process: few discuss where they are applying or where they have been accepted or rejected. Groups of friends have moratoriums on college talk, or seniors grimace and make fun of underclassmen when they hear them even mentioning college. There is silence because of competition and fear. Why are we competing with our own classmates to get into top schools? I can’t say I know why, but no one wants to say where they are applying, because we are in competition with our own classmates, or because we are afraid that if others know where we applied and they find out later that we were rejected, it becomes embarrassing. Why are we embarrassed? And why do we fear rejection and judgment? As letters of acceptance and rejection come out on that fateful day, the silence continues. No one can say whether they got in or not; no one wants everyone to know they were rejected. If you don’t get in, you don’t get in! It is not the end of the world. We all have to face rejection throughout life; we cannot expect to never face any rejection, and facing rejection now can only help us grow more. You can still go to college! It may not be your first choice, but there are hundreds of great universities around the country. Things happen for a reason, so if you don’t get into your first choice, maybe there is another university that you are meant to go to.
I am here to propose this: why do we have to hide? We are seniors! We are leaving this school in six months, so why are we not enjoying what time we have left together? We have been classmates for four years; we have grown together, learned together, struggled and succeeded. We should not be out to get one another, to compete with each other, or to judge each other. So when December 15 rolls around, take a deep breath, don’t worry, and don’t be afraid to share the college process with your friends and classmates. We should be here to support each other, in acceptance, rejection, or deferral. We need to be here for each other, now more than ever as this day of reckoning looms over our heads.