Feature image from memeguy.com.
The two weeks right before winter break were the worst part of admissions season for me.
Everyone suddenly wanted to know everything about everyone else’s college portfolio, but at the same time, nobody wanted to disclose anything about themselves. It’s a tense, confusing time where people can become hurt for no immediately apparent reason.
I’m not going to try to rationalize or make sense of it all, because emotions are complicated. Instead, here are some lessons I had to learn the hard way about what to say, what not to say, and how to say it.
Reciprocity is (always) expected.
This might sound like a no-brainer — don’t want your GPA spread around? Don’t ask people about theirs. Even I understood that much.
But I had no idea that this also applied to things that people voluntarily disclosed to me.
One of my closer friends had asked me to proofread his Common App essay (why he had done so was still beyond me; we were the blind leading the blind). After I got done, he looked over my edits, thanked me, and then asked me if he could look at my draft.
I did a double take.
“I mean, you read my essay. Can I read yours?”
I remember flashing him a sideways smile.
“Sorry, but no.”
“Oh come on.”
“It’s bad — I don’t want you to.”
“But mine was pretty bad.”
“It wasn’t that bad.”
To this day I still don’t understand how me doing someone a favor gives them a right to look at my stuff. But I was definitely a lot more careful about taking information people offered me from then on.
(That, and I eventually stopped caring about secrecy all that much.)
Sharing makes you close, whether you like it or not.
Some people are more secretive than others, and to them — once they’ve disclosed something really near and dear to their hearts to you, it comes with the expectation that you’re now one of their good friends.
During freshman year, I was really friendly with this one girl. We gradually drifted apart, so by senior year, we were little more than casual acquaintances.
I met her once when we were both waiting for one of our English teachers to proofread our college essays. We spoke at length about general college things — she, like most of our graduating class and me, was banking on the UC system.
Curious, I asked her if she felt comfortable telling me what her essay was going to be about, and she was. Eventually, she asked if I wanted to read it (and of course I did).
She sent it to me as a PNG file (smart move, since I can’t copy and paste off of one), and to be really honest, it was a genuine and well-written piece. I asked her if she wanted to read mine (she refused). I thought that’d be the end of things.
Nope. In the following weeks, I had to listen to her pour her heart out about admissions season, about how she was losing her mind, about how her parents just don’t get it. I certainly tried to sympathize the best I could, and I’m glad that she managed to find an outlet for her feelings.
But from my end, it just felt like oversharing; she was telling these things to me like we had been best friends for years, while all I could do was awkwardly comfort her.
Moral of the story: free information is never actually free.
Anything you don’t say can and will be used against you.
I never really kept my college list secret. Most everyone knew that I wasn’t going after the big names, and that I ideally wanted to stay within the state of California (and frankly, I really do miss California now). I was applying to all the UCs and that was where I hedged most of my bets.
Once, I was asked why I wasn’t applying to Harvard.
My exact words were, “They’re not quite my style. Boston isn’t my city.”
Anyone who’s ever played a game of telephone would know where this is going.
The next time this rumor came back to me, I had morphed into an arrogant Anglophile who was “too good for Harvard” and had my sights set on Oxford (personally I think England has subpar food and weather). A week or two later, someone came up to me and told me they heard that I had cried because Harvard had rejected me for early decision (Harvard doesn’t do ED, and what part of “I didn’t apply” did these people not understand?).
I lost track of the rumor after that, but I’m sure it only got worse before it finally died out. It’s crazy, the things that people are willing to believe about other people, but hey — everyone’s stressed and it’s a bad time overall. Who knows? This gossip could be someone’s weird emotional outlet.
The strength of a secret is directly proportional to how close you are with the listener.
Or in fewer words, few things are confidential between best friends.
If you’re not the closest friend to your listener, you can bet that they will tell your secret to all the people they are closer to than you. I’ve been guilty of this, and I’ve also been on the receiving end of this type of behavior.
Even though I wasn’t that big on prying, my best friend was really good at doing it rather inoffensively. The result was that I’d often know a lot more about people than they think I do.
This was something that I had to be careful to not let slip in conversation. For instance, I was talking to a classmate once about the schools she was applying to.
“Yeah — the Claremont Colleges are super close to home, so I’m definitely applying there. Chloe got into CMC last year, and I was also thinking of a few others.”
“Scripps, right?” I added reflexively.
“Yes, how did you know?”
“…um, it was going around?”
“But I barely told like, two people!”
“Well, I mean…information really gets around, doesn’t it?”
Then, I had the misfortune of telling a certain person that I had screwed up on my UPenn interview. The next I knew, almost everyone in my graduating year was expressing their condolences for me. Of course, it doesn’t bug me anymore, but it has taught me to be a little more careful about who I disclose information to.
People lose interest. Eventually. But they will.
Yes, really. By graduation people shut up about college and admissions. We were too busy gushing about saying goodbye to high school and all of the friends we made and signing yearbooks and making summer plans. This is another unspoken truth, but by then we’ve all developed this tacit agreement to not talk about admissions season because it was a terrible time in terms of emotions and stress.
It carries over into college, too. You won’t believe how hard it is to get some people to recall details about their own admissions experiences — my guess is that it’s because it’s something that we’ve all tried so hard to forget.
But for anyone who’s still in the middle of the ride, it will be over. It may not feel like it, but this too shall pass. Stick to your own principles and make yourself a priority, but remember that other people have their boundaries too. Sometimes it won’t make sense, but emotions typically don’t anyway.
Before you know it, you’ll be on the other side like the rest of us, and everything will be okay.
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