So I read this article about “elite” colleges and why you shouldn’t go them. The article is a bit dramatic at times and definitely has an agenda. But it does have some interesting points regarding how we “manufacture” students for the college application process and what happens when students arrive on campuses in the fall.
While I was reading the article, I couldn’t help but think about my personal college application grooming and the ultimate result. In high school, a lot of my friends and myself went to college counselors. There were a handful in our area, but most of us barely talked about the process together with each other. We knew who went to Mrs. SoandSo and who went to Mr. Whatshisname, but it was a pretty stealth operation.
My application to Georgetown was a perfectly crafted well-rounded work of art. The right numbers. The right extra-curriculars with a handful of elected positions: government, journalism, music, and (of course) athletics. I really don’t know how we made it through high school in one piece. I will admit that I loved everything I did. I lived for the Youth in Government conferences, fell in love with rowing, had so much fun with my yearbook friends, and never wanted chorus to end! But there was always that looming pressure of getting into a good college. Even though I enjoyed what I did, I absolutely knew that the combination was going to help me (aka my resume) stand out.
… it worked. I opened a three-days-late early acceptance letter from Georgetown on December 18, 2007. I remember crying, which probably looked like happy tears from everyone else’s perspective, but they were really tears of relief. I felt like, okay I’m done, I can breathe.
If you’ve been reading TCP for a while, you probably already know what my freshman year at Georgetown was like. To keep a long story short, I didn’t adjust well to college life that first semester. I had never spent any time away from my parents like that before and I only knew one person at the entire school… so there was this immediate sense of loneliness from Day 1. Then, the all-consuming feeling of failure took over. The relief I had felt nine months before then was wiped away in an instant when the pressure to “get a good job” came into the picture. The pressure to get into a good school was bad, the pressure to get into a good job was worse. While my high school was definitely competitive, Georgetown was that to an Nth degree. It absolutely crushed me.
In fact, I failed (12%!!!!) the first college midterm I ever took. Not because I didn’t know the material (I got the one question I answered correct), but because I had a terrible panic attack within ten minutes and (obviously) was asked to leave. I was so concerned with getting a perfect score that I ended up sabotaging myself.
That was, unfortunately, only the beginning. The fear of failure had turned into actual failure– if you’re going off of the grading system that is– and I spiraled out of control. (I don’t like talking about some of the unhealthy coping mechanisms I turned to because I would never want someone else to try/do/resort to it… but you can just take my word that it was not good.) I did manage to pull through it and finish the semester almost miraculously albeit not “perfectly” as I had once envisioned.
In retrospect, failing was the best thing to happen to me. (I started my blog because I needed an outlet that wasn’t class/studying!) It also immediately took the pressure off, once I got better. I had failed. The worst had happened and the world continued. It made me put college into perspective and I think I enjoyed my experience a LOT more because I wasn’t focused on driving myself into a hole of academic
madness achievement in the pursuit of a “good job.”
My unique experiences and network led me to the perfect job for my first year out of college and I ultimately turned what was my creative outlet into my full time dream job.
I know I have a huge audience of girls in high school feeling the college pressure and college girls feeling the job pressure (and moms with daughters going through all the pressure)… with back to school right around the corner– sorry to bring it up, I know it’s still summer– I worry about the girls who are like the 18 year old Carly heading off to a more-or-less pressure cooker of a college.
You can succeed, and will succeed, without putting a perfectionism-driven pressure on yourself. The best advice I can give is what I wish I had done before everything got rough:
– Share my concerns with my parents immediately. Don’t worry about putting on a “good face” for your parents, if you’re struggling with something talking about it from the beginning can help. It’s also just nice to know someone’s behind you no matter what from the beginning.
– Meet with professors after the first class. When I did start struggling in an outward fashion, I didn’t have a relationship with my professors and that was their first interaction with me. If I felt more familiar with them, I think I would have been more comfortable reaching out with concerns I was having regarding tests/material from the get-go.
– Ask for help as soon as you sense something was wrong. I knew I was getting ready to go down the wrong path and kept it in. Partly because I was scared to tell anyone what I was going through and partly because I didn’t really know who to even tell. A professor? A dean? My roommate? Every college should have some kind of counseling services….. if you think something is wrong, go. (At Georgetown it’s called “CAPS”)