Why I Won’t Be Going to an Ivy League School, and Why That Matters

I am a junior in high school. In 6 months, I will be deep within the throes of college applications, acceptances, and rejections. As a rising senior, I am often confronted with a series of frequent interrogations regarding my future. Typically these conversations start as small talk until the inevitable but still dreaded question, “Where do you want to go,” comes up. I typically answer with the nonchalant, “we will see” and move about my day but it still weighs heavy on my mind. The fact is, I won’t get into a top tier school and I am learning to be okay with it.

I am not a lazy or apathetic student. I maintain a strong GPA and work hard to contribute to a positive campus climate in my tiny 400 student charter school in downtown San Diego. I am the Secretary of the school site council, and will graduate with honors. In today’s ultra-competitive college admissions process, that is not enough. I am not naive, I spent high school “political-ing” instead of “playing the game.” Over the course of the last 3 years, I put my personal political passion before contriving myself as the ideal college applicant. I spent my Saturdays walking precincts instead of studying for the SAT’s. In fact, I took the SAT the Saturday of GOTV (Get out the Vote) weekend. By 2:00 on testing day, I found myself at a campaign office, making phone calls to voters. I worked on congressional, city council, and state legislative campaigns instead of grooming my resume and extracurriculars to best appeal to schools. Over the course of my high school career, as President of the California High School Democrats and Projects Director of the High School Democrats of America, I worked to help create a generation of engaged and active voters instead of on my math skills. There is a substantial difference between being informed and being involved but universities with single-digit admission rates continually demonstrate an interest in students of the former.

Even for adults I still stand strongly with my informed vs involved principal. Informed is supporting candidates, involved is walking precincts and participating in phone banks. Informed is posting on Facebook, but doing nothing else. Informed but not involved is a trait universally loathed by campaign managers but is seen as an admirable quality in a world of perceived political apathy.

I am sure some of my friends disagree with me on this; I know a few students who took every AP offered, and were still politically involved, but this was not my experience. That being said, even more of my peers, particularly in politics, identify with the struggle of doing what they love, but understanding the implications that devoted effort to a non-school-related cause will have on their college admissions.

In the college culture of resume filling, I question how will I demonstrate authenticity? How do I show that all of the work I did in high school was genuine? How do I quantify the literal thousands of hours I worked to organize, to mobilize, to phone bank, to walk, to lead? How do I represent that times that I managed volunteer programs, led trainings, and was responsible for data entry? The answer is, I can’t. Because as my English teacher and Harvard application reader once said,“On paper, everyone is a political or environmental activist.”

I applaud recent efforts from several universities to adopt admissions policies that look at students holistically. In July of 2015, George Washington University became part of a growing list of schools to not require standardized testing scores stating that a test-optional policy “aligns with our admissions philosophy of holistic review.” This prompted a dramatic increase in applications to GW, and the school believes the policy will create an even higher performing and diverse class.

In the Fall of 2017 I won’t be at an Ivy League, and while I am okay with that, I represent the thousands of students across the country whose application doesn’t tell their high school story. My application to the Ivy’s will not reflect the many students I helped get involve in political activism or start high school Democrat clubs on the campus. Nor will it show the hours I spent doing miscellaneous volunteer work for a Veterans nonprofit, or the time spent scanning walk packets. For many students, a college acceptances represent a validation for the work they put into high school. But I know that for me, and the students like me, validation will come when Democrats win up and down the ballot, and I see the role that High School students had in making that happen. Moving into the fall and then Winter and Spring of my Senior year I prepare to face rejection, but more importantly, I am prepared to make the best of wherever I end up.

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