The College Whirlwind


By Rebecca Z., Age 21

It was always assumed that I would go to college. I grew up in a community where most kids go to college. I remember being in middle school and someone telling me “this is when it starts to count” – that colleges would care what I did in middle school. Just to clarify, no one ever sees your middle school transcripts or talks to those teachers.

In high school the process really began, but I felt like for all the talk of the people around me I didn’t know much about applying. I was the oldest child in my family who had previously not been very tuned into the whole idea. When to apply? What the “Common App” I kept hearing about was? The difference between Early Decision and Early Action. Let alone trying to pick a school out of a list that seemed to potentially have no end. On the advice of one of my neighbors, whose children were already grown, I headed to Barnes & Nobles and picked up my very first college guide book. I chose the Fiske Guide based on this woman’s recommendation and came to love the “Overlap” feature – suggesting similar schools at the end of the blurb about each one. And so I started to make lists of schools I might be interested in. At first it was an extremely long list because I didn’t really know what I wanted. How was I at 14 supposed to know if I wanted a big school or a small school or an urban school or a rural school? There were a lot of factors to consider.

My family spent a lot of time sorting through all this with me and at the end of my sophomore year my mom declared that I needed to narrow the list to schools that I actually wanted to visit. We saw Tufts and BC that summer on a day trip from our vacation on Cape Cod. And junior year became a whirlwind of visits that turned out to be very helpful. I was able to eliminate a lot of schools and refine what I was looking for in a school. From seeing Colgate I learned that I could not be in such a rural setting. From seeing Swarthmore and Haverford I realized a college the same size as my high school was too small for me. And so I gradually determined what I wanted.

But the college application process is much more than simply what I want. I had to keep my grades strong and score well on the SAT. I did well on the PSAT and hoped for a scholarship. Unfortunately I managed to stress myself out so much about doing as well or better on the SAT that I developed real anxiety over the test. When I took it un-timed at home I would naturally finish within the allotted time and usually well surpass my PSAT score. The second I actually timed myself or I was sitting for the real test I would have to spend half the time telling myself to calm down and just focus; meaning that I rarely finished and always did less than my PSAT. I’m sure many students suffer similar stress over those standardized tests; I just wish I could tell them not to worry as much because it ultimately hinders you, or at least it can.

It all works out in the end. Despite the stress of everyone asking where are you applying, what score did you get, and finally where are you going. I’m at a great school entering my senior year and loving every moment of college. Well, maybe I don’t love the exams but the rest of it is great. I will apply to graduate school this fall with a much more relaxed approach, confident I will end up where I belong.