The college admission stress

Voilà! SENIOR YEAR FINALLY ARRIVED! I can already feel the exhilaration on graduation day. But first, there’s a big dilemma I need to deal with: It’s the COLLEGE ADMISSION. Before I can actually celebrate anything, I first need to get accepted to a college (hopefully my first choice).

For a long time, I thought I would audition to get into a music conservatory in my senior year. But my options expanded when I moved to the U.S. Back in South Korea, by the time you enter high school, you need to declare your field of study, whether it’s the arts, humanities, athletics, natural sciences, applied mathematics, etc. Earlier on, in middle school, I decided to study classical voice. Hence, I attended an arts specialized middle school. The school curriculum primarily focused on training students to become professional dancers, artists, musicians. Though the school integrated academics to the program, they weren’t rigorous enough to compete against students from public schools in South Korea. If I truly wanted a liberal arts education, I needed to transfer.

Luckily, I moved to the U.S. in 2013. I was that one lucky girl whose parents afforded a private school tuition. But it wasn’t easy. Because I was immersed in a vocational education at the arts school, the liberal arts education at Blake was extremely difficult. In my first year, I would hide in the bathroom during a group activity to avoid interaction with my classmates. I thought I was a distraction because I couldn’t contribute anything to the assignment. And I was deeply frustrated with myself. Obviously,  I didn’t want to feel stupid, so I continued to work very hard to get to where I stand today.

When my english drastically improved after sophomore year, I realized how many options were open to me. I discovered new possibilities. I was very optimistic about the successes I achieved in my Physics course, student newspaper club, and even Computer Science (despite the poor grade I received for the course). While I explored the plethora of possibilities, junior year was approaching. And everyone started to ‘freak out’ about The College Admission.

Although my parents constantly remind their kids to do whatever they want in life, I also know that they would be satisfied with my achievements and accomplishments. I mean, what kind of parents would hate their kids from succeeding? After all, both of my parents pursued the elitist education throughout their lives. My mom went to the most prestigious women’s college in South Korea. My dad went to Columbia for graduate school. Furthermore, most of the relatives from my dad’s side attended prestigious colleges in the U.S. Therefore, legacy is definitely a factor that causes a lot of anxiety and fear when thinking about my college admission. I worry that I will become an embarrassment in the Lee family.

When I decided to quit music, both of my parents were initially disappointed and shocked. My mom started ranting about how much the family needed to sacrifice for my music education. My dad urged me to continue to excel in my music-related extracurricular activities, because I’m an outstanding performer; many colleges will like to see my excellence in the application. Although I was sorry, I didn’t feel like apologizing, because I did what felt right. If I’m not dedicating my effort and time on practicing new music scripts for my performance labs, there’s no reason to just swing by the music center without any preparation and excitement. I’ve never regretted my decision; quitting an insurmountable music-related activities became a great relief. Of course, it doesn’t imply that I hate music. I just don’t think I would live and die for music, and I know there are so many other subjects that I deeply care about; I will be able to power through my interests persistently. Ultimately, in college, I will be able to pursue multiple interests including music without any pressure to compete against other students.

I’m very fortunate to have survived the conflict with my parents. In reality, majority of my friends continue to take certain AP or Honors courses, to volunteer at five different organizations, and to play three varsity sports for the sake of getting into a ‘great’ college or to impress their family members. Early on, some kids already know that they want to become a brain surgeon or a lawyer, because those careers will buy them a golden ticket to high social status and wealth. In addition, this mindset continues to be the mainstream for many teenagers during the college search process. Some kids believe that X college will guarantee a Y job, because it’s a prestigious college that practically everyone knows. And I’m not going to lie. Until this summer, I heavily relied on the statistics during my college research. Particularly, I looked at the selectivity of the schools as well as class ranking, GPA, and standardized testing, because the popular belief is that intelligence can be measured by tests and letter grades. On the other hand, I internally disagreed with the common belief, because I was beyond creative, business-savvy, and mature, which are characteristics that schools can’t measure and indicate on my transcript.

During my college research, I felt extremely insecure, because neither did I have a high GPA nor did I have high standardized test scores. Yet, I wanted to get into certain type of colleges because they were reputable and highly selective. I continued to push myself without excitement to learn. I just wanted to know what content would be on a test so that I could get a good grade on this particular assessment; I would ask teachers if a particular discussion is graded; I skipped a lot of social events, club gatherings, and lunch time to spend more time on studying. As a result, I dealt with frequent mood swings and irritability. And I completely broke down for an year. My grades weren’t improving; I didn’t have the motivation to even wake up in the morning because going to school made me feel miserable. With the help of medication and counseling, I’ve recovered a lot from depression. But it’s something that still makes me feel vulnerable.

Entering this summer, I’ve came to the realization that it’s not worth stressing about grades and test scores to get into a college based on its statistics. Instead, I want to belong to a community where I can thrive without feeling depressed. I want to genuinely learn in a cooperative environment, and I don’t want to step on my friends’ toes to overachieve in every single area. I’ve found incredible liberal arts colleges in the west coast and east coast that not a lot of my family members know about. But it’s okay, because the college experience is suppose to be personal. It’s for me. Not for anyone else.

I’m absolutely content with my college list. And I have a reason why I would want to attend all ten schools; I can definitely envision myself in their facilities. I still have a lot of preparation to do. There’s kids who’ve already finished all of their standardized testing; there’s kids who’ve already begun the college application essays. Honestly, I think I’ve fallen into self-deprecation these days. Nevertheless, I’m going to try to restore an optimistic mindset, and I’m just going to consistently work hard on my own agenda. But it’s definitely not for the college. It’s going to be for my self-growth. And Hopefully, the colleges will accept me for who I am; if they like my character, they will select me. If not, that’s okay. I’m just going to try harder to be my authentic self, and I’m going to manipulate them to like who I am.


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