High School Seniors, Applying to College & Taking A Year off Before College

Ever since I found out I won the Gates Millennium Scholarship, I’ve felt this pressure to pull off a “Malala Yousafzai”. Meeting the other 999 Gates Scholars through our Facebook group only exacerbated this pressure. These kids were going to Harvard, Princeton, Cornell-you name it. To be honest with you, I didn’t even know what an “Ivy-League” college was until senior year. But it didn’t take long until this pressure caused me to center my whole application process on attending a prestigious college. It was always on my mind, even during my Global Citizen Year in Ecuador…and I hated it.


Then, when I went out for a run in my Ecuadorian community the other day, it happened. All these thoughts I processed over the past few months began to boil over,


Why was I even applying to these colleges? Aside from a ‘prestigious title’ did I have a reason to go? I didn’t even like the cities some of these colleges were in! Had I really gotten that shallow?”


I realized I only had a narcissistic basis for applying to certain colleges. During my run I envisioned myself talking to one of the other Global Citizen Year Fellows, a fellow called Jackson (I don’t know why-I just did, you know). I met him back in Pre-Departure Training and I really liked this guy. He was humble, he was attending Dartmouth University, and I heard he was a state champion runner (and in my book, anyone who runs can’t be that bad). I was wondering what I would ask that guy if I ever ran into him again. While I avoided tripping over the rocks in my path, I thought about what question I really wanted to ask.


“What could I do if I attended Dartmouth one day”?

In this imagined conversation I didn’t ask this question in the hope to gain prestige. I didn’t ask so I could get praised for the acceptance and I didn’t ask so I could boast about it one day saying, “Yeah, I went there”. My motivations for attending a college suddenly shifted–just like that. I asked this question because I felt that aiming to attend a top university would be the best next steps in bettering myself, so I can give back to the world and the people I care about.

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 Thanks Jackson Harris for letting me meet you back at PDT and “enlightening” me


Later that week I got on my laptop and, while hesitant at first, I crossed a few schools off my Common Application. I was left with six schools from the original eleven. I thought over the last six colleges I had left.

“I actually have legitimate reasons for applying to these schools. If I had to go through an interview, I could actually talk about why I wanted to attend and what programs I found I would like to take part in-as opposed to the other five I crossed off “.

This got me to thinking back to high school. I’ve never met my real relatives in Mexico, and for me, my vice principal, my cheerleading sponsor, and my college counselor are the closest thing I have to relatives. When I decided to take this Global Citizen Year in Ecuador before going to college, they were worried about me. They were worried that as a first generation college student, a bridge year abroad would throw me off track; that if I didn’t go to college right after graduation I might never go.

Yet what this Bridge Year did for me was give me the time to truly question and contemplate where I want to go to college and what I want to get out of my four years there. I think back to this idea I came across in an article on “Why Students Should Take A Year Off Before College” that I read during my first month in my host community in Ecuador. It went something like this,

“It’s essential for students to take Gap Years, it not only helps them with the college application process but maybe, just maybe, somewhere along the way these kids will realize that college is about the ‘fit’ and not the ‘brand'”.

Now I have six colleges on my list and I am “emocionado” (Spanish for “excited”) to apply to each of them. I’m not applying to them for a prestigious title or brand. I’m applying because I can actually envision myself “fitting” into these schools. Suddenly a lot of pressure is gone…and that’s just the best feeling in the world.