August 27, 2014

Third Prize #1: Don’t Be Frightened

Third Prize #1: Ryan Lenea, Seattle, WA:  Middlebury College ’18

Don’t Be Frightened

College Admissions Process is standing across the room from me. He’s a big man with a dark, intense gaze. His thin lips stretch into a sly smile. “I have a deal you can’t refuse – the opportunity to get a world-class education,” he says.  “I just need a little of your time. How does that sound to you?” I sit down at the table he gestures to. “What do I have to do?” I ask.  “First I need you to pick a few of the approximately 4,168 colleges in this country that you would be interested in attending.” I look at him uncertainly. “Well, I don’t know anything about any of them…” “That’s no problem at all! There are 85,800,000 search results for ‘choosing the right college’ on Google. All of those websites contain useful information that could assist you in making your decision.”

He looms over me and I nod weakly. “Well okay, is that all?”  I ask. “Almost!” he says, gripping my shoulder a little too strongly. “I’ll also need you to write a personal essay, 650 words or fewer, that tells us who you truly are – your real essence. I’ll also need a number of subsequent essays on a range of different topics which you will need to thoroughly research. Lucky for you there are 11,915 books pertaining to college essay writing available on Amazon.”

I reach up and wipe away a bead of sweat with my moist palms. “You’ll also need to get a number of letters of recommendation from your teachers, your SAT scores, your SAT subject test scores, your AP test scores, and $75 for each of those items to be considered. Oh, and you’ll need to submit those via the Common App website which, unfortunately, frequently crashes. Also, please do not neglect your college interviews, which are a critical piece of your application.”

I blink away a nervous tear. “I will need all of that information VERY SOON. Pay attention to the deadlines. If you ever need any guidance, there is a counselor at your school whose job it is to serve you, as well as 400 of your classmates!” He cracks his knuckles fiercely and glares into my sweat-stained face. “Are you wasting everyone’s time, Ryan? This is all for YOUR benefit, you understand. This will be good for you. You’re not wasting our time now, are you?”

“No, no,” I stutter, “I’m trying my best, please…”

I wake up three weeks later with the 17 College Admissions Offices I applied to jostling for space in front of me. They all start talking at once. “It is with regret that I inform you that we will not be able to offer you a spot at Stanford this year…” “I am delighted to inform you that Pitzer College was extremely impressed with your application…” “While your application was strong, Bowdoin College…” “We feel you would be a great addition to the George Washington Campus…” “While we appreciate the time and effort you put into your application, Northwestern University…” “I have the privilege of informing you that Middlebury…”

College Admissions Process leans over me, smiling. “Congratulations!” he says, clapping slowly. “Did you learn anything?” I gulp and ponder his question for a minute. “I learned that a judge of your credentials is not a judge of your character; that there are probably numerous colleges I would have loved, not just one; that in the long term it’s better to pick a school for how you think you would like it, not for its name recognition; that summing yourself up completely and totally in one essay is not possible; that this process is one of many challenges others and I will encounter in life, and whatever the result, life will move on; that you have no right to feel entitled if you are accepted, nor unworthy if you are denied;  that life isn’t fair, but it always rewards hard work and determination.”

College Admissions Process pats me on the back.  “Glad to hear it! By the way, have you figured out how you’re going to pay your tuition yet? I saw your parents’ tax return. They’re not going to be much help.” A fresh panic takes hold of me. “I hadn’t even thought about it! How much does it cost?” His meaty face bursts into a broad grin. “I have a friend you should meet.”

Financial Aid Application Process enters the room like a chilly draft.  “Ah, Ryan, correct? I have a deal you can’t refuse: free money. I just need a little bit of your time.” He extracts a sheaf of forms from a folder and extends them, his long fingers like insect legs. “How does that sound to you?”

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