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On College Applications and the Pressure to Stand out

On College Applications and the Pressure to Stand out

18. The silent killer. I have less than 80 days until I turn 18, and as time goes by, the burning reality and force of growing up is sucking me in, day by day. Getting older is inevitable; as much as some of us want to live in the eternity of youth like Peter Pan, we can’t. As I’m about to arrive at the final level of my high school career, I realize there is no turning back.

When I return after summer this year, I will be fighting for an admissions letter from all of my dream schools, hoping I’ll stand out from tens of thousands of applicants—many being superior than me in academics, sports, talents—and wishing that maybe one person on the staff will see that I’m special. I never used to think that I was special. I’m the kind of person who doesn't exactly stand out. I’m a teenage girl who enjoys literature, witty jokes, and pop-punk music. There’s dozens, maybe even hundreds of others who are just like me. So what makes me special?

Picture this: Harvard admissions has over 40,000 applicants annually, and as one of the most prestigious universities, it has a staggeringly low 5.4% admission rate. And most who apply to Harvard are the ones at the top of their class, who dream and achieve bigger and further than anybody else. Yet 94.6% of those kids are rejected; a symbolic slap in the face by a bunch of people who don’t even know you.

Standing out in a crowd, in a situation where you’re compared to everyone else, can feel impossible. It feels like you’re in camouflage, or you don’t stand out, or you’re not special. It’s tough. Now here I am, just months before I have to submit my applications. I’m trying to piece words together what makes me different, what sets me apart from other applicants, and I'm finally realizing: It's that I always did what I always wanted to do.

Maybe I don’t have the highest GPA, or thousands of volunteer hours, or the highest SAT grade ever seen in my district. Maybe I’m not a teenage entrepreneur, or going to college at the age of 14. But I did what I wanted to do.

I’m a teenage girl who loves literature, witty jokes, and pop-punk music. And since freshmen year, I have made an effort to pursue these interests. Starting with writing fan-fiction about my favorite punk-rock band members, to writing blog posts about my days, to writing for a magazine that I truly care about, I’m creating words and pieces that I'm passionate about. I'm doing right now what I always thought I couldn’t do—or things I assumed I’d have to wait until I’m older to accomplish. 

This isn’t some sappy reflection piece that’s telling you, “If you want to do something, just go for it, and everything will work out in your favor.” In reality it doesn’t, and doing the best to your ability can only get you so far. But here’s the harsh truth: Why should anyone, college admissions team included, like me or even show an interest in me if I don't even like myself?

As I approach 18, I’m stuck in the state of mind where I often feel like I'm not special compared to others. But I've learned that I should value what I do, respect myself for pursuing my dreams, and never doubt myself.

By Wen Hsiao, 17

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