Feature image from theodysseyonline.net


 

Hindsight is 20/20 and my high school self definitely wasn’t perfect. That being said, I don’t think that the decisions I made were all bad — at least, as a junior in college now, here’s what I think of some of the choices I made back in high school.

 

Not applying to my “dream” schools | Verdict: I regret this one so hard.

While a lot of my friends were busy prepping for Harvard interviews and Yale applications, I was not. When they talked about Cambridge and New Haven and Princeton and Durham, I was…not.

It wasn’t that I genuinely didn’t want to go to any of those elite institutions. I did.

Stanford, in particular, was my absolute dream, and I had applied ED; I loved sunny Palo Alto, and there was nothing I had wanted more to study at one of the places at the heart of Silicon Valley. But December came around and they had rejected me, and that taught me to be scared.

I didn’t look at Harvard’s supplement; I ignored my friends when they asked me what I was submitting. I didn’t care about what interviewers were in our area for Yale; I didn’t have an interview to go to. I stayed quiet while everyone else was speculating about Providence and Manhattan and Chicago, certain in my uncertainty.

I didn’t need to know whether or not they would accept me, I told myself. I just knew that I couldn’t be rejected if I didn’t apply, and that was how I protected myself.

What I hadn’t known back then was that this uncertainty would become something that would still bother me from time to time, three years later.

(Not to say that I wasn’t happy where I am now; I wouldn’t trade my friends I’ve met, the experiences I’ve gathered, or the resume I’ve created here in Ithaca for anything. I don’t think even Stanford could make me leave Cornell at this point.)

But I feel like I’d owed it to myself, as a test of my own ability, to apply to all those places that people only dreamed of getting into. Part of me still wonders if I really could have gotten in; how much was I able to do, and how close was I to the top? Even if I was really far from an acceptance, thinking back now I’d rather have applied and gotten rejected over not knowing if I would’ve gotten rejected. The suspense bothers me more now than a rejection letter ever could have.

I was fortunate enough that my parents could afford the application fees, and because of that I really feel like I missed an opportunity. After all, you only apply for undergrad once — and I should have at least tried. Now I’ll always be wondering if I could’ve been good enough, and it’s a question I’ll never know the answer to.

 

Not resume-padding | Verdict: I love my high school self for this.

National Honor Society at my high school was a big deal. There was a rigorous, character-based interview process (it wasn’t an automatic acceptance based on GPA), an intensive community service requirement, and a semesterly reapplication process.  

It was also one of the most time-consuming and prestigious extracurriculars my high school had to offer. Anybody who wanted to go somewhere, it seemed, wanted in. All of our Berkeley admits, our Ivy Leaguers had been members, and it’s a strong correlation, if nothing else.

But the structure of it all never really appealed to me; not to say that I didn’t like leadership and service, but I preferred something more organic and freeform, where I could help people in my own way.

So I picked different extracurriculars — like peer counseling, like orientation leading — that would let me work in small groups with people or one-on-one. I never liked lording over people (and I still don’t), so something that would let me walk beside the people I was helping was perfect.

And to this day, that’s something I really enjoyed about my high school career. Sure, I may have skipped over some big names like NHS, like Academic Decathlon, like Key Club, but I was able to find the activities that fit me the best and I grew as a person because of it.

If I could do things over again, the only thing I’d change about my extracurriculars is that I would go even further into what I loved doing. I could have helped bring peer counseling to other schools in my district; developed a curriculum to teach high schoolers about body positivity and self-love; created safe spaces for people to talk about the things that bothered them because not enough people listened.

And frankly, I think that this honesty to myself was what helped me get into a school that I was happy with. It made writing my personal statements so much easier, and gave my writing a voice and a shade of emotion that I don’t think I would have been able to convey if my passions hadn’t been genuine.

I recently heard a college graduation speech I really liked, and the most memorable line in it (to me) was when the speaker advised students not to “chase their passions,” but instead to “be passionate about what they chased.”

I agree wholeheartedly.

 

Screwing around (once in a while) | Verdict: If I could do things over again, I’d still do this.

I had to take a personality test for an internship I had, and one of the questions asked if I liked to work for long extended periods of time, or if I preferred to work in bursts. I happen to be the latter.

Which meant that during applications season, I did a lot of weird things to let off steam. YouTube Let’s Plays were my addiction; I went to grab fast food an exorbitant number of times; I ran at night and sang at the top of my lungs when I thought nobody was listening.

Things got even crazier when my best friend was added to the mix. We took over a guild in a game we both played and micromanaged all of its operations. We walked around in empty parking lots, laughing and talking and running in our bare feet.

It might look like a waste of time to anyone else, I guess, but that was part of what kept me sane enough to finish some of my applications. I couldn’t keep going if I forced myself to sit at a desk, and sitting at a desk idly only stressed me out even more because I felt like I should be doing something, but my energy and creativity were totally depleted and I just couldn’t.

Screwing around actually helped me a lot; it shook up the scenery and not only de-stressed me, but gave me new ways of thinking about my work and how I should tackle it. For instance, inspiration for one of my favorite personal statements actually came to me when I was looking at my hometown from the top of a mountain, and eventually evolved into a narrative about my resilience and determination to make any place a better place in my own way. Something like that.

But yeah, I’d definitely screw around again if I had to apply to college a second time, and I most likely will during my postgrad apps. It’s a lot easier when I give myself permission to be less serious so I’m not stressing out about burnout. Because applications season was hard, and sometimes, letting me be me was really the best thing I could do.

 

Jeanette Si

Jeanette is part of the class of 2018 at Cornell University, double majoring in Information Science and China Studies. She hails from a public high school in Rancho Cucamonga, California, and enjoys geocaching, skiing, and gaming in her spare time. Admissions season has given her humility, resilience, and the ability to answer ten different prompts with one personal statement.