Actual Timeline and Reassurance
I attended quite a few college events starting freshman year, from the huge CIS fair at the Shangri-La, to random college visits at NIST, to various presentations and talks (some great, but most of them painfully boring). I’d go to these events with a detached and non-presumptive mindset, simply wanting to take in all the information I could with no particular goal. All of this open-ended, in-person research supplemented everything else I could find on my own (websites, videos, brochures, etc.) really well, and by the time junior year rolled around, I felt like I had a very strong and holistic understanding of what all my options were and how they differed across and within certain countries.
From then on, I finally began to reflect upon the schools that stood out the most to me—ones that resonated with my personal values, that had everything I loved about going to school and all the things I wish I had. For me, liberal arts colleges fit really well with these considerations, and this allowed me to begin narrowing (but not limiting) the scope of my options. I proceeded to do more in focused and in depth researching for these sorts of schools.
I never really felt like my list ended up truly solidifying, though. Even after countless conversations with my counsellors, parents, and friends, it seemed like I just had to end up making some pretty arbitrary choices in the end, many of which were last minute. My list from June of 2017 was completely different to my list in October with the exception of one school (and it kept changing after then too). I even ended up applying to a large public institution, and also to the UK, where many of the universities are a far cry from liberal arts colleges. Going to university was something I had my heart set on for quite a while…college was the place that’d finally allow me to be all the things I wanted to be: a dedicated and long-term learner, an independent individual, and a discoverer of my own identity. My personal values, aspirations, and sense of self were so deeply involved in my search, making this entire project so personal. And yet, it ended up more shapeless and imperfect than I had planned for and had hoped, even though I had invested so much effort and time. But that’s just the way things are sometimes. And through it all, I learned how to let go.
At the start of December break during senior year, I remember being able to characterize all of my progress into one word: behind. My Common App essay was done thanks to ED, but most of my supplements really not at all in good shape (as in, I only had a couple of unhelpful sentences written/no real substance). Knowing that I was really coming down to the wire, I sat down and prioritized which essays to write first, creating a list mostly based on difficulty (i.e. whether or not I felt like I felt good about the prompt and had potential ideas bubbling in my head), as well as on how strongly I wanted to be admitted to and how slim my chances were for that specific school. I also contacted my counsellor in advance to kindly ask if she’d be able to skim through my essays during December break. Taking these steps made sure I had a clear, step-by-step plan instead of a clump of doom and overwhelm that I could not get started on, and that I was being held accountable—someone was relying on me to keep my promise. Both these things helped reduce my resistance to working and motivated me to keep going even when things were looking grim.
I remember still writing (not editing or revising, but writing) my supplements in the Starbucks near my house on the 30th of December, and that I keyed my parents’ credit card details into Flywire to submit my applications at 11:45PM on January 1st. I’d also go through this cycle all over again for Jan 15th apps and for UCAS (my personal statement was barely existent on January 1st). I did the best I could with what I had left, and I turned out alright—more than alright, in fact (my first semester at Vassar has been incredibly positive). And you will too.
My college process was lack-lustre and far below my own standards in many ways, but it taught me to not be bogged down by unideal, no-longer-controllable circumstances, and to just…let it go (should’ve listened to Elsa the first time). I realized that it was my senior year, and I wanted to spend more time having positive experiences with my friends and meaningful moments in class, rather than lose myself in something that was meant to help me get shot at understanding who I was.