Thank you, college admissions

Finding myself as a result of the college application process


Collin Qian

Touching John Harvard’s shoe on a field trip in middle school.

Collin Qian, Sports Editor

I stood outside Ms. Lerner’s first-period Biology classroom on the first day of high school. Nervous as hell, I leaned against the beige wall, attempting to fit in with everyone else and simultaneously battling the butterflies in my stomach. No matter how hard I tried, though, I couldn’t squeeze myself into everyone else’s middle school friendships — unlike most MVHS students, I hadn’t attended Kennedy or Lawson MS prior to high school. 

Eventually, I got through a hectic first day, blindly attempting to do whatever felt right. In the end, I took a picture of myself to preserve the memory — it was the first photo saved onto my new phone. However, with the rest of my memories consisting of looking at “a.m.”s before bed and squinting at textbooks, three years went by in a flash.

As a senior now, I have more than 5,000 photos on my phone; however, I never thought about looking through and reflecting on them until I was forced to do so by the Common App essay. College admissions officers were somehow supposed to get my whole life story from me in just 650 words.

I was told to focus on one topic, one story, one lesson. Determined to find one experience that would describe the story of my whole life, I went through old photos, old diaries and even found myself in the attic scavenging through my childhood belongings. I smiled as I saw old friends, cringed as I went through selfies and I laughed at memes — some things just never get old. 


I found old photos of me playing tennis in elementary school. Replicating the huge smile I had in every photo, I reminisced about the feelings of competitiveness that had driven me to dream of being better than my older siblings one day. The world was simpler back then; I didn’t have a single serious thought in that mushroom head of mine.

Posing in front of Taipei 101 when I was in middle school (Collin Qian)

Going through my drawer to find my old iPhone 5s, I found the collection of photos that harbored my memories of five years living in Shanghai, China. Swiping through each photo, I smirked as I saw each of my old friends, but I also saw a different “me.” Tears leaked from my eyes as I thought about my transition in fourth grade from Cupertino to Shanghai, one that split my family. I felt the cold pain I had felt living with only half of my family, but I also felt the warmth granted by my independence.

Last, I held up my current phone, home to more than 5,331 photos. Scrolling to the very top, I found the photo of the first day of high school: I looked like a nervous wreck. The butterflies started to return, so I quickly swiped and sifted through the rest. A smile inevitably emerged as I saw photos with my friends, and I was filled with gratitude. I felt the love from people that had known me for so little time, yet cared for me so deeply.

So, with my room a mess of scattered toys and photographs, I looked at my photo of me as a kid, then at the mirror and thought to myself, What happened to me? Answers in my head soon found themselves on my Common App essay Google Doc, and everything else just came naturally.

Celebrating my 15th birthday with my new friends from Cupertino, (Collin)

I realized I should’ve looked back a while ago.

Photos are meant to preserve memories, to freeze time. It’s so important to take time for self-reflection — otherwise, I would have never learned from my experiences, and those photos would have gone to waste. So thank you, college essays: you forced me to reflect, to think about how my experiences are unique when all I’ve tried to do these past three years is fit in.

You’ve forced me to look at each year I’ve been alive, to see how each of my physical characteristics has developed, to feel the emotions and learn the lessons of each of my experiences and to really find out who I was, who I am and who I want to be as a human being.

To any future college applicants, here’s my piece of (perhaps niche) advice — ask your parents for an iCloud Photos storage upgrade so you can capture all your experiences: your best ones, your comfortable ones, and even your worst ones. Soon, when you will be asked to describe your life story in 650 words, you too will have to reflect in some way. So go through your experiences and figure out which ones have molded and shaped you.

To college admissions officers, thank you for forcing me to self-reflect. I’m not worried if you reject me, because, in the process of trying to show you who I was, I’ve been able to truly figure out who I am.