Fifth Prize #1: Ella S. Conte-Wood, Seattle, WA: Western Washington University
Finding Power in College Shopping
The college application process was a real challenge for me. I felt as if I was being judged by people I didn’t know for things that didn’t even reflect who I really am. For example, I have never been a good test taker, so my SAT scores and my grades, that were largely affected by test scores, were not as good as those of someone who is able to take tests well. There is more to a person than the ability to do well in school, or the activities he or she did while in high school, because there can be outside factors as to why one student was able to do more activities than another, like time and family commitments. I felt that the essay was the only thing that truly showed who I was, and even that had restrictions that made it less “me” than it could have been. College applications only scratch the surface of who an applicant is as a person, and that was hard for me because I didn’t believe I was up to par with every other senior out there.
What I didn’t realize at the time, or at least what I didn’t grasp, was that I was the consumer and I needed to judge schools based on what I wanted out of my college education. The turning point in the process for me was when I set up an interview with an admissions counselor from one of the colleges I was interested in. He helped me realize that the college application process should be about finding a school that is a good fit for you and that admissions officers realize that grades and test scores aren’t all of what make up a person. They try to look at you as a whole—and as a whole, I had something to offer.
After that meeting, I started looking at colleges not as big, scary, faceless places that feel entitled to pick and choose whomever they like, but as organizations made up of people who are dedicated to education and really want to find students who will flourish and succeed at their schools. I stopped being scared to apply, regretting not doing more in high school and feeling down on myself, and started picking apart the schools I was interested in and deciding whether or not they would be a good fit for me, rather than worrying only about whether or not they would accept me. What was important was if the school and I were a good fit for each other. I became the consumer who was preparing to buy a college education. I was not going to pay for a subpar education or one that wasn’t right for who I am. I realized that by shopping for my education, I was shopping for my future, and if I didn’t find a school that met my standards and was a place where I could fit in and would fit well with me, then I shouldn’t waste my money on it.
My advice to any terrified high school senior out there is to have confidence, know what you want out of a school and what will make you happy, and then do your research. Realize that you are the consumer and you don’t want to pay for a product that won’t work well for you. I would especially recommend talking to people at the schools you like and hearing what they think about how you would fit in at their school. Be yourself and know that if a school doesn’t accept you, it’s not because you aren’t good enough but because that wasn’t the right school for you.
The idea of applying for and choosing a college should not be about “Who will take me?” or “Where will I be accepted?” but “Where will I succeed?” and “Where will I be my absolute best and happiest?” It’s hard for many people to see themselves in a positive light and as someone a school would be lucky to have, but you just have to realize that the whole process is about you being a consumer and if you take that power, you will make the right decision for yourself.