I am not ashamed to admit that I was college-focused in high school. I was the ninth grader who had a College Confidential account. By sophomore year, I was picking out my top choices from the Fiske Guide to Colleges. I stayed up until midnight waiting for the release of the new Common Application (breezily advertised as “CA4,” coming soon to stressed out seniors across the world!), filled it out by September, and, a little smug, kicked back and watched “Admission” while my friends toured colleges I had seen my freshman year.
But I am ashamed to admit…I may have gotten a tad addicted.
To me, the admissions process was reality TV on steroids. I spent hours reading application forums, guessing which candidate would get into an Ivy, and scrolling down to see if I was correct. I memorized the admissions consultant lingo—“You have a hook,” I would say to my friends, “so you’re bound to get at least wait-listed.” I was arrogant, I was dumb, and I was convinced that I understood a system that, when you get down to it, is rooted in luck and chance. Case in point: I thought that I would never get accepted into my dream school.
Somehow, I squeaked in. Game over, right? I gave my stack of College Prowler books to my little cousin, barked any advice I had to the juniors in my calculus class—“Just apply ED somewhere, okay?”—, and, a few weeks after I got in, posted my “stats” to a College Confidential forum. The jig, I realized, was up. No more brainstorming ideas for college essays. No more stalking admissions officers’ Twitters (I told you I was addicted). For the first time in four years, I was a free woman.
And honestly, I felt kind of incomplete.
I’ll say this slowly: the college admissions process did not define my high school experience. While I packed my schedule tightly, I crammed in time to be a kid. I danced with my friends in the school courtyard in my free time between Latin class and AP World, I made an idiot out of myself, and I helped pierce someone’s ear in the cafeteria one day. My best friend and I were, and still are, almost inseparable. And in spite of my panicked frenzy to raise my chemistry grade a teeny bit higher to get an “A,” I genuinely enjoyed learning. I fell in love with English and history. I learned to tolerate everything else.
But I did spend high school working towards a goal. It was comforting to think that my work would pay off—that, if I worked my butt off and waited four years, I would head smack into what still seems like a utopia. I knew I might not end up at my top choice, but I would go to college somewhere. That’s what kept me sane at a time when I literally had nightmares about not making High Honor Roll.
I now have only three months until I start my freshman year of college. I’m where my high school self always wanted to be: picking out dorm furniture, skimming through Her Campus articles on “How to Look Hot During Orientation,” and squealing at various classes in my course catalogue. I’m set on reinventing myself in college, on being Me 2.0—confident, more put-together, and actually able to dance. But I still keep giving in to that future-focused impulse. Last night, after three cups of coffee, I found myself making a spreadsheet called “Journalism Internships I Will Apply to For Next Summer.” And I realized that, while looking ahead may have gotten me into college, I don’t want to spend these next four years planning the four years after that.
I don’t want stress to be my default emotion. I’m done with worrying myself sick (literally, after getting a “C” on my first calculus test this year, I threw up in my school bathroom). I don’t need my goals to define me anymore, or for my imagined future to eat away at the present. I want to feel in control of my life now—not at the whim of employers for jobs I’m not even sure I’ll apply to.
So, this is my New School Year Resolution: Stop. Don’t bookmark Internships.com, don’t spend the first day of college whining to Career Services, and don’t let the unemployment rate dictate the way you view the world. Live life the way it’s meant to be lived—one day at a time and one glorious moment after another. Breathe in. Smile.