To Those Making the Decision to Go Crazy, Early

Phoebe Park - Ecuador


November 2, 2016

Ding! I get a notification to view my Facebook’s On This Day. In an Ecuadorian coffee shop, I open a post from exactly one year ago on October 31.

I remember so very clearly the months of bitterness that ensued for the following months. The Chainsmokers, SNBRN, Big Gigantic, and Yacht Club were just some of my favorite artists who performed the night before at a concert I had been anticipating for ages. But this is Early Decision/Early Application season, and it’s serious business marked with sacrifices.

There are so many reasons why I thought I had to be accepted to the perfect college: respect, a justification for the crazy sleep-deprived life that I had lived for seven years, an achievement I could share with all the people who had helped me get to where I was thus far, a part of the socio-economic elite that had the power to change the world for the better, and the list goes on. The reason that gave me the most stress was the ability to afford my education. Since I started understanding my family’s financial situation in sixth grade, I made a vow to work my hardest to finance all of my undergraduate education myself. In sophomore year, I told my parents my intentions; I promised I would never allow them to pay a penny of my tuition. In order to see that dream come true, I told myself I would have to gain acceptance from one of the most prestigious institutions in the country with an endowment strong enough to back me financially.

That’s why ED/EA season held so much gravity for me, and although not everyone may have held the same reasons, everyone feels the same pressure. It feels like a life or death situation. My experience was a little different as I applied to eight schools by QuestBridge Early Decision’s of November 1st. However, I still intimately know the obsession with taking advantage of higher ED admissions rates, choosing the “right school”, and wondering if I should retake my SAT subject exam before hearing that devastating rejected.

I walk along the dirt road in my rural Ecuadorian community looking up at the stars. A little closer to my host family’s house and I can see the twinkling city lights over my neighbor’s farm. From here, college admission – especially early admissions – seems like a grain of sand in the vast beach of life I was to enjoy. More than the experiences from themselves, the distance that this bridge year has gifted me thus far has given me perspective.

Early admissions is not the end all be all; there is Regular Decision. College admissions as a whole is not your life’s climax either. The impersonal accepted/rejected/waitlisted webpages do not define eighteen years of life, and there also isn’t a certain brand-name college one has to attend in order to live a happy and successful life. A good life is not a prestigious institution listed on a resume, a comfortable life marked by six-figure salaries and family vacations, nor the amount of respect others have for us. Most importantly, personal success is personal, for it is independent from the approval of others. Success does not require others to acknowledge it as so. A good life is life lived to its utmost capacity, not the one others expect you to live. I am realizing this more and more here with Global Citizen Year instead of in school studying for midterms.

So then my advice for the high schools seniors would be to just live; live to the fullest. Pour your absolute all into everything you do, and be content with your best. More than rejection, fear regret, and go after the early admissions process if you think you are ready. Enjoy senior year and the last moments of today’s normal. And then, take a gap year. Take time afterwards to process those crazy emotional six months that felt like hell and heaven at the same time.

And here is the epilogue: I ended up getting accepted to Princeton University. It was the very last out of the thirty letters of rejection, wait-lists, and acceptances I had opened in 2016, and I remember sobbing in disbelief for almost two hours. I am so grateful for all my rejections, especially the early ones, so learn from my experience: embrace rejection with open arms. They make you aware of the other open doors that call your name. Here’s to the beginning of college app season!

Phoebe Park