Jan 22, 2007
Tales from the application process
Posted in: Miscellaneous
Earlier this month, I asked for your reflections on the application process. Dozens of you wrote in with wonderful, funny, and sometimes heartbreaking stories.
I had originally planned to publish one to three pieces, but there were just so many great responses that I have published seven.
Click on the image for a flash animation:
Carla, Costa Rica
I became a Food Channel fan since I decided to apply to MIT. No kidding, but going to college away from home requires more skills than just getting good grades, and one of them is knowing how to cook amazingly simple 30-minute meals.
People always tell me that I have no reason for applying to a college outside of Costa Rica, since our education system is quite good, and I have earned a complete scholarship for attending the best universities in my country. However, I want to study aerospace engineering. In Costa Rica, we hardly have a decent airport for receiving tourists, and therefore, studying this career in my homeland is like making a cake withou flour. So, I had to apply to a college abroad, and MIT was my choice.
The first thing that my parents asked when I told them I wanted to apply was: "Where is Massachusetts? Near Los Angeles?" Obviously, I had to get a map and show them that they were completely lost, and I explained them how the application process was. Even if they did not know where I dreamed to study, they were completely supportive.
Another funny thing of studying abroad is how expensive everything seems... In fact, the annual cost of attending MIT doubles what my parents earn a year... you can imagine their reaction when I told them this... but thanks God there exists Financial Aid.
The last thing that may be an issue of going away from home is that my family will miss me, and I, as well, miss my country, its nice climate, and, above all, my family. My parents have to accept that I will move away someday, they have NO choice. I choose evasion... at least I will have many things to think about in college to keep me focused in going on and to avoid being homesick.
I think I will cook my own food while being at college. It is way cheaper than buying meals. And I am trying to learn to cook really well before leaving... I will miss my mother's food.
Michael '11, Oregon
Many people dread filling out college applications, but I looked at it as an opportunity to get to know myself better. Perhaps, filling out those applications would allow me to look deep inside my being and discover who I truly am. Well, I approached my application to MIT with this deep philosophical outlook and soon enough, I realized that I was completely wrong. Really really wrong. Like, imagine somebody who is as wrong as they could possibly be. That was me, only more wrong. This is not to say that my college application process wasn't educational, it just had nothing to do with learning about who I truly am. Allow me to share some of the things I did learn though! Maybe you learned some of these?
- I now know how many hours are in a week and how many weeks are in a year
- I learned that MEAD envelopes with recommendations take only one stamp
- I know how long 500 words looks on paper
- I learned where both of my parents went to college, what their degrees were, and when they graduated
- I learned my social security number!
- I know my High School's SAT code by heart
- I learned that you can type as much as you want on the MIT application as long as you don't mind reading the preview app with a magnifying glass
- The Common App really is as scary as they say it is
- I now remember what classes I took in 9th grade, what I got in them, and whether they were honors or not.
- I became proficient at downloading and reading PDFs.
- I know everybody on the admissions committee on a first name basis, but I haven't actually met them.
- Waiting to start the Stanford app until after the MIT decision (5 days before it was due) was risky, but I learned that it was SO TOTALLY WORTH IT!
Perhaps you learned all, or none of these things. Perhaps your college application process was completely different than mine. All I know is that I know a bunch of stuff now that I never thought I'd ever need to know, and I imagine attending MIT will be a similar experience. Go into it expecting one thing and come out with something completely different. Bring it on!
It was one of those weeks; you know, a time where you throw your hands up in the air and stand back, let life take its course. An unexpected death and tangential, echoing disappointment coming from different directions—it wasn't easy.
I remember coming to school that Thursday. No one was talking; nearly everyone was crying. Why did he do it? There were no outward signs of depression; he was a jovial, beloved, intelligent athlete and friend. We had known each other since seventh grade, had been in all the same honors and AP classes together. I wasn't surprised when I had overheard him chatting to someone in the halls about the Stanford application; that was about a week before he hung himself.
Earlier in the year, schoolwork overloads caused me to pull several all-nighters. There was one day I came to school stone-faced, chokingly whispering to my AP bio teacher that I couldn't do the lab the rest of the class was working on; I tried to say that stress was taking the best of me, but even these words soon drowned in my own tears. Immediately, she sent me to the counseling office, and in no time my counselor had me back to my chipper old self again.
But the day we found out that Johnny had killed himself, my teacher walked up to me, looked me in the eyes, and told me something that scared me so much I almost collapsed before her in a heap of apology.
The day before, which was a Wednesday, there was an ECO Club meeting, but other obligations caused me to blatantly forget it. Not until my teacher walked up to me the day after did I exasperatingly realize my error, but what she told me in no way relieved my regret for forgetting about the meeting.
Apparently, all the teachers had received a phone call the evening before. According to my bio teacher, the news of Johnny's suicide was prefaced with the ominous words "We have some bad news." Momentarily, she believed that my name was about to come out of the receiver. She had believed, for a second, that I had killed myself the night before; apparently, no word as to what had happened to me during ECO Club was part of this, along with my incessant stress all semester long.
What could I say to that? I'm sorry I forgot about ECO Club? Or how about, I'm sorry I gave you reason to believe I killed myself? I didn't know what to say.
The hardest part was going to Statistics the next day. Several of Johnny's best friends had gathered around his seat in the class, sobbing. Everyone in the class was sobbing, and these contagious tears caused me to get "all worked up" myself. My friend held me tight; she wasn't even in that class, but she was so sad she had decided to come to it with me. I told her that this was enough, and we quickly left the room to get some air outside. We walked for a while, discussing emotions and the situation. Everything was alright until she said "Well, I mean, I get ideas like that all the time. You know, end it all. It'd be so easy."
And I broke down. She said she doesn't talk to me about "those" feelings because she doesn't want to burden me. I yelled at her, saying the biggest burden would be that I would have to live the rest of my life with the loss of my best friend. What else was I supposed to say?
We walked off our feelings, and soon saw our friend at the quad-turned-makeshift-memorial. He was one of Johnny's best friends, and I had known him since fourth grade. He looked lost, coming at me with open arms for a hug. He began to sob, telling me how he had found out that morning that he was accepted to his early decision school. By then I was crying again, and I remember whispering some corny nonsense about how Johnny's influence over him would help him to be one of the greatest kids showing up at the freshman orientation of his new school.
Days passed, but they seemed like weeks. A week and a half later, I began to remember that MIT's and Stanford's early decisions were coming out. I was almost sure that I wouldn't get into MIT, but my friend Calvin, who is basically my hero and was waiting for "Stanny's" decision, had a new name: "Stanford." All of us called him this because he was the brightest, most talented individual any of us knew. We didn't think for one moment he wouldn't get in; comparatively, all the students who had gotten in the years before were not nearly as personally or academically qualified as he was. And we were hoping an acceptance letter would boost his spirits because he was one of Johnny's best friends as well.
I have spent endless hours sitting in front of my computer screen, reading MIT's admission blogs, College Confidential discussions, AdmissionChances.com statistics. I have stayed up on weeknights until two AM dreaming about getting into MIT. My friend Calvin did the same; he obsessed, like me, over getting into his favorite school. We both even got a little cocky leading up to the decision release dates. And yet whenever we got in our own little "funks," saying "Why am I even applying; I know I have no chance at all," we constantly consoled each other.
Well, neither of us got in. Before I read that deferral decision on the Internet, I thought that my life could be changed forever in the next minute. But it didn't. And as I sat there, thinking about all the work I had done up to that point, all that effort I had put into my application, all those B's I had worried about, all those embarrassing SAT scores, I realized, this is stupid.
This is stupid.
Less than eleven days ago a brilliant student whom I had known for more than four years used a rope to end his life, and I'm sitting here, freaking out about how I didn't "get in." Well guess what, there's more to life than getting into "the school of your dreams." In fact, even if there's not "more to life," there's still life, which is more than what Johnny gave himself the chance to indulge in.
As finals approached, though I stayed levelheaded, I maintained that idea in my head, that idea that I've got bigger fish to fry. Maybe I should live a little more than worry about how MIT will reject me. Maybe I should focus on other amazing schools rather than read MIT blogs every night. Maybe I should (I'll stop with the clichés soon, I promise) "carpe deim" it up a little more, rather than worry about my GPA.
Because I'm still alive. No, Ms. O, I did not kill myself. And trust me, I'm glad I didn't.
Applying to college - how it feels? (eyes tightly shut) "It's only a bad dream, it's only a bad dream, it's ok, it will all be over... (opens eyes) ...oops... not yet over."
I'm from India. Applying to colleges has just about started for me because MIT is the only college that I've applied to until now; Indian colleges hold their entrance exams during March and April. So, basically applying to MIT has been like a kick in the backside to tell me GET GOING!!!
Right now it's all about unevenly bitten fingernails, stained coffee mugs left all over the house while studying at unearthly hours, extra stationary envelopes, gluesticks, correction pens - to mail applications jussssssssst before the deadline and remembering to breathe every once in a while. I've had nightmares about turning up late for my SATs, public rejections from colleges made super-embarrassing, not getting admitted anywhere, the boogie-man (ok... that's pushing it; that has nothing to do with colleges, sorry :) ), etc. My application has been the only thing on my mind for the past two months or so - and what makes it scarier is how badly you want to get in but knowing everybody else wants it just as badly and is just as good... phew!!!
But it's also nice in some ways 'cause you realize you're taking your life into your own hands - deciding what you want, what you need and how you're going to get it. When you're writing essays about yourself you learn stuff about yourself that you really did not pay attention to before. Hmmm... I'm trying to write more about why it's good... but... er... uh... until I get in anywhere, that's all I can manage. :)
And oh yeah... the most amazing thing - reading blogs and responses of people in the same soup. :-)
So I'm from Seattle, and you might have heard that we had major winter wind/snow storms last December. (It's funny because I hear all my east coast buddies say they have been having such a mild winter, while we are freezing our toes off - it seriously never gets that windy/rainy/cold/snowy here, EVER)
Anyways, so it was the night of December 14th and I was editing and rewriting all my essays for the Stanford app (which was due on the 15th; I know, I should have finished it earlier, but whatev). I was charging my laptop, so I decided I would use our office computer to write them. I was on my last essay when the lights suddenly flickered out for a second. "WHAT THE HECK WAS THAT?!" I thought.
The rain was beating on our living room windows like large pine cones and the wind made the trees bend like blades of grass. My dog was frantically barking outside in the momentary darkness. To my shock and horror, my computer had restarted and I had not saved any of my changes. THANK GOD FOR AUTORECOVERY.
So I started my computer back up, but just as I was about to open up my files, the power surged again... however, this time, the power did not come back on. I sat in front of my blackened computer screen in our dark office for 5 minutes waiting for my electricity to come back on, but it never did. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! I was frantic. I did not know what to do. The app was due the next day and I did not have any of my essays saved anywhere else nor did I have Internet. Luckily I charged my laptop.
That night, I stayed up writing my Stanford app essays and finished them all just before 3 in the morning. My power was still out and my laptop was running on 19% power. Ohh man. Time for me to submit this thing!
So I ended up taking my laptop and driving all over Seattle looking for a wireless signal. I drove up to my school (which was closed due to the storm), connected to the network from the parking lot, and submitted my application with 4% battery life left.
I was extremely relieved when I finished it and my power came back on the following night (which was when I saw that Stanford had extended its application deadline for those Pacific Northwest students affected by the storm to the 18th). It was definitely a roller coaster experience - one that is funny when I look back on it, but also one that was definitely stressful in the present.
It was a moment to remember as the "SUBMIT" button was clicked to a standing ovation from the rest of my family crowding around me at the computer. There could have been many reasons for their sigh of relief though. For one, I could see that my little sister all of 7 years was getting her favourite computer back after what seemed like ages to her. (Maybe she hasn't heard of the 'One Laptop per Child' project by Nicholas Negroponte!)
The MIT application process has revealed yet another wonderful quality of my little sister. My sis has just let me in on her innermost secret. On our very recent visit to a temple here, I found her surreptitiously going up to the statue of a mouse which is believed to be the vehicle of a much revered Hindu deity. There I spotted her whispering something into the mouse's ears. Later, on our way back home, she came close to me and told me that the whispering I witnessed was actually a wish she had made for me - that I would be lucky to get into the "Mayor's office."
"And what do you mean by a mayor's office?" I asked her, bewildered.
She replied, "Oh, I thought you knew akka (which means elder sister in Tamil language), this [MIT] page which you keep looking at all the time on the computer is the same Mayor's office building which I keep seeing on the Cartoon Network's 'Powerpuff Girls.' I thought you too want to be one of them, and so I have prayed for you!!"
Much as my parents could not help feeling amused, I tried hard to control my emotions... I was touched... I guess that's MIT 'P.O.W.E.R.!'
Thanks to everyone who submitted their thoughts! I couldn't publish everyone, but I did read everything that was sent in (several times!).
I wish everyone my best as you wait for responses from colleges!