There’s no event that wholly captures the attention of the country’s top high school students like the college application process. At Paly, every new application cycle brings grade-wide anxiety, hours of SAT tutoring and college counseling, and rumors of who’s going where. These are the perspectives of three Paly students and Verde staff writers on the college application process at three different stages of their high school careers.

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Ashley Wang Screen Shot 2017-02-22 at 9.36.54 AM

Sophomore Year

“College” to a sophomore is condensed into a tiny, yet ever-present thought shoved to the back of the mind. Tiny because it seems too far down the road to even bother with it, and ever-present because of its persistent pounding in your head whenever you hear about that classmate who just won a national piano competition or your lab partner who is going to be interning with a Stanford chemistry professor over the summer.

For the ambitious (and I mean wealthy) student, private college counselor meetings and community service opportunities are already on the calendar. But the reality is that most sophomores are completely clueless in the face of something as daunting as college applications. Who wouldn’t be overwhelmed when even Club Day, a fun event intended for discovering people with similar interests, is filled with screams of “Join our club, it’s good for college”?

However, it’s not like we are completely ignorant of the fact that college is upcoming and important. Far from it. College constantly puppeteers our choices, from influencing us to choose computer programming over interior design or that sleep-depriving honors math class over the much better-suited regular class.

So we continue to make sacrifice over sacrifice to feed this perpetual idea of achievement. Yet at the same time, we also don’t know much about college or the application process. We think about it (sometimes obsessively), but it’s the sheer massiveness of the internet along with a nasty habit of procrastination that keeps us from seeking out what we need. And the constant mentioning of who got into what “Top 20” school is a bit of a turn-off, too.

Being a sophomore is like being a tween all over again. You’re stuck in that awkward phase where you kind of just have to idly sit and wait until you grow into yourself — or in this case, until junior year.

It’s not freshman year, where we have an excuse to push responsibilities aside. And it’s not junior year, where all of those stress-inducing tests and pesky deadlines are just way too close to ignore.

Sophomore year is the gray area. Free from obligations, yet also not so free at all. It’s implied that we have to do something to fill this vacancy, but what? And where do we even start? Should we start by asking about the differences between the SAT and ACT or how many AP classes we should take? Or are these stupid and obsessive questions?

As of now, only a small percentage of sophomores are privy to this information. And whether you receive this information is often dependent on how involved your parents are in the Parent Student Teacher Association or how many connections they have. But those seemingly put-together students aren’t representative of the whole grade. It may not seem so, but it is normal to be struggling. Most of us are.

Maybe the school administration feels like exposing us to too many details at one time too soon would overload us with stress in this age of harsh expectations. Yes, repeatedly drilling the word “college” into our tired ears doesn’t help. But some concrete information on how to begin the application process would (because not all of us have parents that hand us a detailed plan of our entire summer). Information provided on the school website is helpful, but there is not enough encouragement to read up and self-educate.

Knowledge shouldn’t be restricted to a lucky few; if everyone could have this knowledge, maybe we wouldn’t feel so suffocated by the unknown. Maybe then, we would be able to breathe again.

Noga HurwitzScreen Shot 2017-02-22 at 9.36.18 AM

Junior Year

Groans echo from the Library Resource Center as a group of juniors sit through their first presentation from the College and Career Center. Each member of the audience is given a thick folder overflowing with information about the college process and what lies ahead during the next year and a half of our high school experience. Knots form in my stomach.

I remember rolling my eyes in 3rd grade when my friend proudly told me their brother was accepted to the University of California, Berkeley. “But that’s a bad school,” I retorted. In my perspective it was either Stanford or Harvard or bust — UC Berkeley, if you’re reading this, I love you and please accept me.

Even as an 8-year-old attending hippie Ohlone elementary, I felt the need to excel academically and attend an elite four year university. For the most part, this competitive atmosphere is fostered by a combination of the high achievement mentality Silicon Valley exudes, and its embodiment in my friends and peers.

Luckily, I’ve grown a lot since then, and have gained a more holistic understanding of the college process and my academic potential. From seeing my graduated friends thrive at universities big and small, elite and unknown, I have now learned that  everything is going to be okay.

However, to some degree the pressure remains. The jokes about community college, the battle over AP classes and weighted GPA’s and the continuous comparison of SAT scores pushes students down a whirlpool of stress and judgement that most cannot escape.

It took me three years of high school to realize that I’m not scared that I won’t get into a name brand school; rather, I was afraid of how others will perceive me if I don’t attend such a college. It took me three years to realize that ultimately, I’ll be happy wherever I choose to attend.

As I dive head first into the college application process, I hope to keep myself reassured in the mindset that everything will end up okay. Afterall, I am less than a year away from being a Second Semester Senior!

Tara MadhavScreen Shot 2017-02-22 at 9.36.27 AM

Senior Year

It’s late spring, and the mailings begin. The glossy pamphlets, sent from all corners of the country, beckon me to their sprawling leafy campuses, their open fresh lawns, their spires and their prestige. There are a group of colleges, however, that require no aggressive advertising. The Ivy Leagues and a few other choice schools like Stanford, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Chicago have established themselves in the minds of the American teen population and its parents as the best colleges a student can attend.

In today’s hypercompetitive environment, getting into one of these top schools is supposed to make or break your potential for a successful future. What I realized in the process of my own college application process, is that these schools are incubators of change and have unparalleled opportunities, but they are not the only ones. As a graduating senior, I want to impart the message that you should ultimately apply to the places you are truly drawn to, not the places with the highest rankings.

When I began my college process, I knew that getting into one of these schools meant respect from my friends and family, and for good reason. The elite schools I identified reward those who work hard and excel. The more I researched schools, however, the more I realized the Ivy League only existed in my mind from stories others had told me, having never officially visited any East Coast school. Without any experience to back up my assumptions, I ultimately decided to apply to only one East Coast school and no Ivies. To clarify, I did apply to at least two schools that are unequivocally elite. Applying to elite schools isn’t bad — what is damaging is the heightened anxiety surrounding acceptance into said schools. This pervasive attitude has distracted us from the fact that there are a number of factors students must consider when applying beyond the label prestigious. My lack of experience with the Ivies and my wish to study andplant roots in California led me to primarily apply to schools in California. There are so many great schools out there for an array of professions.

Ultimately, you shouldn’t apply to a school because there is some aura of prestige around it. Apply to that brand name university because you are committed to a major, a campus life or a style of teaching, not because you want that elite school as a button on your shirt. Know that you are in control of your life and that you can be successful no matter where you go.