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“Hey, are you applying ED anywhere? I can’t decide between Yale and Brown…What are your thoughts?”
“Man what was I thinking? I’m taking 6 AP classes and it’s senior year! I’m not even that interested in World History or Microeconomics but college apps, amirite?”
“Did you see that SAT scores came out this morning??? I mean I’m really happy with my 2370 but MAN if it wasn’t for that one math question I could’ve gotten a perfect score! I shouldn’t complain though, sorry to lay all this on you first thing in the morning. By the way, how’d you do?”
If you’re friends with overachievers (or are one yourself), you’ve probably heard at least one of these things (or even uttered them yourself). There’s nothing wrong with talking to friends about how college applications are going; the process practically dominates the first semester of you senior year, so it’s next to impossible to completely avoid discussions about it.
However, college applications can be a tricky topic to navigate, as it invariably brings your strengths and weaknesses into sharp relief, which might very likely cause your insecurities to (re)surface or make you more sensitive than usual. What’s more, with the arrival of college application season comes a rising sense of tension as the competitive sides of your friends and peers reveal themselves, often in the form of self-deprecation or complaining while simultaneously bragging. The high school administration doesn’t help either, as your rankings become more obvious than ever leading up to graduation. For me, even in a school that refused to publish any rankings whatsoever, I often overheard GPAs thrown around in hushed conversations to try and figure out who would be the unofficial valedictorian.
Needless to say, college application season can be an incredibly stressful time that may negatively impact your normally stellar academic performance or strain once unbreakable friendships. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but having gone through the process and lived to see the fruits of my labor, here are some of the things I’ve learned that you may find useful as you delve into the world of college applications.
To start, I think alleviating stress depends in part on just avoiding topics that could get messy or bring you down, which means toning down discussions of test scores and grades, because these numbers seem to matter so much more all of a sudden. As much as you might discuss them with your friends otherwise, I’ve found that refraining from mentioning your ACT score or the A you got on the latest unit test is probably wise, given that as soon as you bring up something resembling a grade, people’s minds start whirring as they compare yours stats to theirs.
I struggled to maintain some friendships during such a strenuous time, and it wasn’t until afterwards that I realized pushing through the tense moments requires that you know how to respond to friends when you feel uncomfortable during a conversation just as much as it relies on you knowing what is and isn’t appropriate to say. For example, if a friend keeps pestering you about what score you got on the latest batch of AP exams and you don’t want to share, you need to let them know in a friendly but firm manner. Even if the two of you always used to discuss what you got on the latest calc exam or English paper, your friend shouldn’t assume they have the right to know your scores unless you want to share. It’s better to weather a brief period of awkwardness than regret giving away something that you didn’t feel comfortable sharing in the first place. Likewise, if you realize that you asked your friend a question that they’re not comfortable answering, don’t pursue it. Each person has their own boundaries when it comes to what they want to share and what they’d like to keep to themselves, and regardless of your usual interactions, discussing college applications is a unique and high-stress situation in which each person’s privacy deserves to be respected.
As for broaching the topic of college lists with your friends, I proceeded with caution. Even old friends that you usually feel comfortable around may seem like practical strangers when you discuss with them the colleges you’re considering. People’s lists reveal which schools they view as “reach,” “target,” and “safety” schools, and that may not always line up with how others view that person’s chances at each of these schools. Some people are comfortable with where they stand admissions-wise and can speak frankly about their chances, but to others, their college list can be pretty personal.
If you fall into the latter category, it’ll probably be much harder for you to seek out advice for fear of being told you are not as qualified as you believe you are. I know very well the feeling of disappointment that hits when you name a college you’d like to apply to and the other person, oftentimes a guidance counselor, a respected teacher, or trusted friend, pauses before responding with a caveat. In those instances, you shouldn’t let their doubt deter you, all the more so if they don’t know you well enough to see the conviction, determination, and other qualities you possess that are not apparent in a transcript or resume. However, it’s also important to take their opinion into consideration, because as I’ve come to learn, the ample experience that some adults have with college applications tend to make their estimations regarding your chances at certain schools pretty accurate.
Even though I don’t doubt that you’ve heard this countless times already, whatever you do, don’t compare yourself to others. It’s really counterproductive and only serves to bring yourself down, when this should be a time for you to be proud of your accomplishments. And on that note, it can be easy to let your jealousy overpower all your other emotions, especially if you’re surrounded by accomplished friends who all seem destined for the most selective colleges possible. As I’ve come to learn the hard way, being bitter toward others doesn’t boost your own application one bit, and can create unnecessary strife between you and your friends. Everything resolved itself eventually, and looking back now, it would have been quite a pity if I lost friends over some college.
Just remember, college application-induced stress will blow over in a few months, but you’ll want to maintain your friendships for longer after that. Even though app season is an emotional minefield, it’s only that way because everyone else is going through the same stress that you are now. So at the end of the day, it’s probably easier to just cut people some slack and accept their boundaries — because hey, you’d probably want the same treatment for yourself.
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