All in my head

Confronting the overwhelming thoughts of applying to college

Diya Bahl

My go-to leisure time usually consists of me, my bed and TikTok. Just finished homework? Let’s watch some TikTok. About to go to sleep? Maybe just a little more TikTok. Although most of the content on my “For You” page is purely comical or is tailored to my interests, such as a video showing off a new fashion trend or one about the top 10 places to visit in California, I every so often come across those TikToks the ones I always regret watching afterwards.

“My College Acceptances and Rejections!” The title blares through my screen and into my dimly lit room while I lay in bed, debating whether I should continue watching. But who am I kidding of course I continue watching. Wow, she got into almost every school she applied to, I think to myself. I wonder what her GPA was? What about her SAT/ACT score? How many extracurriculars did she participate in?

Is she smarter than me? Could I also get into these schools? Should I be doing more? Trying harder?

Graphic by Diya Bahl

These negative, comparative thoughts overflow my brain while I immediately check the comments. Most of the comments section is filled with congratulations, but the ones that catch my eye are asked by fellow stalkers “What were your stats?”

That’s it. That’s what I was subconsciously hoping someone had asked.

And usually, the creator of the video replies with, “Check out my previous video!” No matter how much I try not to, well, I go check out the video. 

Academically comparing myself to others is something I’m fairly familiar with, but it seems more apparent now. As a second semester junior, the process of applying to college is slowly, but surely, beginning to unfold. Whether it be carefully choosing our schedules for senior year to ensure we have ample time for college applications while still incorporating enough rigor, thinking about which teachers to ask for letters of recommendation or starting to form our college lists, the stresses seem to be right around the corner — much faster than I had anticipated. 

It feels like just yesterday I was a clueless freshman walking into the MVHS campus, when all the really important things that determined my future seemed too far away to worry about yet. Taking the SAT wasn’t for another two years, AP tests were to only be a problem starting junior year and college apps hadn’t even crossed my oblivious mind. But here I am now, overwhelmed by all these issues.

And what makes it worse is that this year has been anything but normal. Never did I imagine I would be experiencing what is deemed the most important year of high school — junior year — through a computer screen, while sitting sitting at my creaky, dented and faded brown desk in my bedroom (and sometimes from the comfort of my bed). Everything has changed, negatively, because of distance learning, with my level of motivation and quality of work ethic being just a few examples. If it’s not already obvious, these aren’t the ideal circumstances anyone had imagined for their junior year. 

Because of COVID-19, everything regarding college applications has felt more stressful and unknown; for instance, take the SAT/ACT becoming optional for many colleges. When I first heard of this news, I was ecstatic. But as I began to think it over, I ended up confusing myself even further. Does this mean I don’t have to take the SAT? Are other people still taking it? Will putting a score on my application increase my chances of getting in? So many questions with so few answers.

Even extracurriculars have taken a whole different turn. My volunteer hours have been cut significantly short, with most of them having to be obtained through a computer screen. Because of this, I’ve missed out on what I think would have been great opportunities. For example, in June of 2020, I was supposed to be on my way to the Philippines, serving underprivileged communities by helping out with health checkups and gaining medical skills and experience. Instead, I was at my desk, writing a research paper using data from the trip they had the year before. 

Graphic by Diya Bahl

Because of all these changes, I can’t help but think if colleges will just see me as average. I had always strived to be above average, but the past year had its own plans. But every kid in the world is going through the same.  

So from time to time, I remind myself that the thoughts I’m having are normal. It’s normal to be overwhelmed with the college application process, and it’s normal for the future to be at least a little bit unknown. I force myself to stop overthinking about something that I can’t control, because all I can ever do is try my best. I tried my best while taking the SAT (I did end up taking it), and I’m currently trying my best to narrow down colleges I want to apply to. What also helps is knowing I’m not the only one who sometimes lets their brain get the best of them. 

Talking to my older sister, someone who has gone through the college process close to five years ago, always makes me feel better. Though circumstances were definitely different for her, she assures me that these worries are natural. She had them too, but nevertheless ended up at a college she wholeheartedly loved and enjoyed, which somewhat alleviates my constant worries.

So whenever I find myself slipping into my discouraging thoughts, I remind myself to focus on the present, not the future. I focus on how proud I am that I got 100% on my most recent AP Bio quiz, or how I’m finally able to safely hang out with friends again, because these are things happening in the present that I’m truly happy about. I now refrain from stalking random teenagers on TikTok who just so happened to get into every UC, because I know that in the end, it’ll all work out the way it’s supposed to.