How College Applications Are Ruining Me

Last week, I started my senior year in high school. For me, that means a lot of my time will soon be dedicated to college applications. Even though the application process is just starting, I’ve spent many hours deciding what colleges I’ll be applying to, thinking about which majors appeal to me, taking and studying for standardized tests, and visiting schools. Just like any college-bound senior I am constantly stressing about getting into schools and what I can still do to improve my chances at the hyper-selective schools I’m applying to.

Because of this, I think about my extracurricular activities a lot. Thousands of kids have good recommendations from their teachers and even more have good test scores. Although I’m not an admissions counselor, I see my extracurriculars as a way to demonstrate the kind of person I am and set myself apart from other applicants.

This means that the way I choose my activities has become somewhat toxic. The way I choose to spend my time outside of school has largely become based on what I think will look good to an admissions office. To some extent, this can be a good thing. I’ve definitely pursued more of my interests because I think they will look good on an application, but I don’t think that college applications should be the thing that motivates me.

Especially in terms of volunteering, the incentive for pursuing some activities has become completely skewed. When I’m thinking about doing a volunteering gig, instead of just trying to help people, I’m trying to make my application look better. This makes me concerned for what I’m going to be like when I’m done with the application process. If my main reason for doing good is self-serving, am I going to stop when it no longer serves me?

Even for non-charitable activities, such as writing, my idea of what is fun has shifted. Instead of doing what I like the most, I’m doing what I think X University will like the most. Earlier in high school, I played a lot of video games and had a YouTube channel dedicated to them. I had 3,000 subscribers and racked up almost 100,000 views. This was a big part of my life that I worked very hard on and gained skills from, but I’d never want a college admissions counselor to know about it. I want colleges to think that I have the interests of a smart, productive person, not a person that sits around playing video games. Even though I’m glad I stopped playing video games as much as I used to, it’s a shame that college admissions was a motivating factor.

This is the worst part of the college process. Many people my age and those concerned for us, especially parents, think that the worst part about applying to college is the stress applied by working hard in class or studying for standardized tests. But at the end of the admissions process, that will be over. I think the longer lasting and more problematic effect is the way that this process has changed me outside of the classroom.