Applying to college for myself

Learning to chase what I’m passionate about


Photo by Ekrulila | Used with permission (Pexels)

Alex Zhang, Staff Writer

“How many colleges are you applying to?” “Which Ivy League schools do you think you have a shot at?” “Don’t you think you can do better?” 

The questions hurtle a million miles an hour at me and swarm around my head. From first period, to brunch, and even while walking to class, these questions seem to echo in every hallway and classroom. And as I stare at my open Common App list before me, these questions reappear in my head, playing out over and over again. 

For as long as I can remember, applying to college has been an important part of my life. Unsurprisingly, as a part of MVHS’ hyper competitive culture surrounding college admissions and notions of prestige, I’d be lying if I said college applications hadn’t shaped some extracurriculars I’ve pursued and decisions I’ve made throughout high school. 

In fact, I still remember sitting down in my freshman year and writing down the names of universities I thought were “good” and putting my career hopes and dreams into colleges that I had blind faith in, simply due to the fact that my parents told me they were “good” and their pristine ranking on US news’s college list. 

Fortunately, the blinking allure of a “name-brand school” slowly lost its luster when I began to do my own research, discovering programs and dual degrees at a wide assortment of universities, far outside the top 20 best schools, that still sparked genuine enthusiasm and passion. The summer before senior year, I painstakingly crafted a list of several schools I researched and put careful thought into, happy with each one of my choices. 

But as senior year began and college became an increasingly relevant topic, occupying every second of available conversation space, I felt a growing sense of doubt in my own choices. It felt as if folding under the pressure that the schools I applied to weren’t “good enough.” Everyone sharing their top choices and which Ivy League school they were applying early to constantly gave me a growing sense of doubt and inferiority about my own college list. 

In the weeks before the long-awaited Nov. 1 deadline, I spent sleepless nights questioning whether I should change my list to fit in with the “prestigious” notion that everyone else seemed to be chasing and whether to sacrifice my research for brand names. I endlessly debated the value of that single, little ranking next to the college name and whether I would let it control my future.

One night, staring at my laptop screen at 2 a.m. in the morning deciding whether to switch out two schools for being “too low” in comparison with the schools I knew several of my friends were applying to, I decided I had simply had enough. Shutting my laptop, I decided to base my decisions off of the research I had made for schools I was interested in rather than an endless chase to live up to the same bars the people around me had placed for themselves. 

Even as the college application process continues, it has already taught me so much about my own identity and system of values. While I used to try and squeeze myself into the molds other people set for themselves and blindly mimic their prestigious goals, I’ve learned to cherish the validity of following my own passions.

Although facing external pressure is a natural part of the college application cycle, I know that as I apply to a wide range and variety of universities, I’ll be applying to college for myself and nobody else.