Image from Pexels

Image from Pexels

The summer I turned 17, I begun taking my college application seriously. I started picking schools, writing essays and giving into the common stress.

College application is a monument, or so my educational context has it seem. While education is indubitably necessary, the role of college differs as to individuals. For those who believe it to be a stepping stone into adulthood, there may be a certain level of emphasis laid on gaining admission to schools of a high caliber. In a way, college application has turned into a game of admission in which students tacitly compete in the form of numbers and achievement records, from who attained the highest standardized testing score to who possesses the most impressive extracurriculars.

I hate seeing bubbly juniors completely shell-shocked by the SATs, squeezing themselves for each decimal of their GPAs. I hate the self-induced mental pressure for thinking out an essay idea that would astound the admissions committee. I hate the fact that every seventeen something is prone to acquainting her worth or success in life with the name recognition of the college she attends. Yet I don’t detest the existence of the college application process despite its inherent flaws, if not venoms.

I understand that it’s born out of a higher construct which my entire being cannot surmount to challenge. Much of the hype is somewhat justified with the assumption of college as a critical stage of a young person’s life. But most importantly, the college application process is not a source of contempt because I do not turn my experience of it into one. After all, college application is what you make of it and it is, for me, a chance to move upon the next chapter of life with meaning. Of course I had my moments cramming the SAT vocabulary or staying up till 2 plucking out some intriguing ideas. Yet in retrospect, they all pale compared to the overall experience of self-discovery.

Writing application essays was a challenge considering my inaptitude for articulation. It was intimidating because it dwelled on myself and I felt I was not good enough. I was asked to share my passions, my inner values and even to verify my authenticity and originality. I couldn’t even read some of my drafts the second time because they were so sub-par and I mostly dreaded the insignificant, insipid reflection of who I supposed I was. But I still clung to writing those essays due to the blissful feeling of introspection and the relief of me finally confronting my past and my imperfections.

The writing was scrappy but it honored my thoughts and feelings at least. I learned to embrace my emotions not on the basis of their beauty, but rather that they are totally valid and they are mine. It was also a strange empowerment explaining your passions and confirming your will to pursue your dreams. I personally delighted in concretizing my curiosity about philosophy together with film studies in total defiance of practicality, parental expectations and my own rationality in a supplemental essay. In retrospect, the stress, doubt and despair are just blurs.

I did take away a better understanding of my interests, values and how I may serve them with a college education. I can’t tell the exact degree to which my interests will change or the kind of person I am in two years’ time but the knowledge I gained is still power, as self-discovery is a long journey every inch of which is meaningful and valuable. Even if college application doesn’t signify an opportunity for self-awareness, it’s a phase you go through in your journey of life. It does sound overly poetic and even naïve but it is the only bit of meaning that rings true to me almost every time. The college application process is a block you must overcome to attain a college degree, to earn a pathway to four years of meeting new people, hearing new stories and finding out new sides to yourself.

Each of us has the right to panic a little when it’s a week till deadline and our essays still remain as rough drafts. Each of us has the right to question our choices and our places once in a while because it’s eventually our nature to do so. But there is a line to be drawn between occasional doubts and sustenance of a low self-esteem. Don’t ever let it blurred by the college application process, even in times when things aren’t falling into places or when every fiber of your being is challenged by momentary difficulties. There is a reason why I equated my college application experience with my birthday. Because they both mark my personal growth, even in different terms. Your college application experience should be enhancing the understanding of yourself and benefiting your own future of intellectual endeavors and explorations. It should be anything but a game of winners and losers in which everyone, including you and I, are stretched out for a brand name in our acceptance letter.

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Chi Thuy Le likes to think she lives bi-continentally while writing out of Chicago.

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