November 20, 2013. Precisely 23 days until my first application decision. 22 days after the first application submission. 40 days until the next application deadline.
2 years ago.
Back then, those numbers mattered. Friday, December 13, Early Action decision day, was to be “the day my life will never be the same.” The prospect sent me into shivers and made the room burn. Whatever manifestations of worry there are, I felt them. From sudden cold rushes at the thought that I’d only taken X number of APs to the warm spreading feeling of “but I’ve taken X number of APs” (I didn’t actually think that last one, but the juxtaposition holds).
And you know what I think about that now? I don’t. And what I regret? Defining my senior year by the future of “college.”
I can’t tell my past self to stop worrying. Nor should I. Worry was inspiration. It’s why I began my essays early and ended editing them late. Why I inspected every bit of my inner self for flaws and merits. Why, on December 13, I had to stop myself from trembling with the thought that I’ll get by no matter what the message in the email said.
And I wasn’t lying when I thought that. I’d probably go to a local state school and maybe apply for transfer in the spring. I’d have a plethora of extracurriculars. I wouldn’t get freaked out about classwork. I’d have class at 9 am and I’d have to go to bed early. This is all pure speculation, of course. But in the alternative vision, I’m happy too. Happier? Possibly. In this Universe, I can’t tell.
Sometimes I return to that vision. It’s enticing. Not abysmal, as it seemed two years ago. I was very wrong about it then.
I was mistaken also to think that college, particularly which college, defines the future. Now it feels like a hateful thought. I’d go back and punch myself into a proper senior existence if I could. Tell myself what I actually want to remember from that November. Talk of all the miserable and joyful days at MIT. Ultimately, they average out into happiness. And that would’ve been the case no matter where I’d gone.
Two years ago, my college essay was a letter to the future, to be read in five years. But here’s what I want to remind the November 2013 past:
Remember your social studies elective, Plains Indians? Where you got an F on the fire-building assignment? It felt silly and enlightening then to recognize that twelve years of school did not prepare you for a basic survival skill. Your group was the only one who failed.
And another class day, you and your classmates lay in the woods for an hour, meditating in a special way. You watched a spider scurry gracefully over the autumn leaves and avoid your hand. You fell asleep on the foliage. You never wanted class to end.
After every Plains Indians class came the American Dream class. It was a very different course. You read books with lengthy descriptions of the prairie. You discussed local culture. You learned about the American Dream, became uncomfortably aware of white picket fences. Langston Hughes’ “Harlem” was your favorite poem (“What happens to a dream deferred?”).
Then there was College Composition. The school’s cultural phenomenon. A class all seniors expected and feared. You even fear it in 2015 somewhat because the ten College Comp rules still haunt you in your writing. You can’t break them without a guilty conscience. Just can’t.
College Comp was also the class for which you had to meet all the new students. Talk to the freshmen and transfers, learn their names. At the end of the semester, there was a quiz on that. It meant nothing on the larger grading scheme, but to you and your classmates it was a huge assignment. You all remembered being freshmen. The support and friendship of high school seniors was super cool.
Because you went to an alternative school, you also got to teach a class, Joy of Mathematics. So much fun it was! The grandest moment of your senior existence was on the day your supervising teacher took out his newest projector/camera and you went into the school’s central space, rolled a piano to the middle, and projected the keyboard onto the giant wall. Then you and your students learned the math of music. And everyone got a chance to project their hands up above.
Life outside of class was beautiful too. After peer-review sessions in College Comp, you solidified senior friendships, and you wrote surprise letters to each other (you still do). You escaped school (legally) during lunch to go to Wendy’s. You had a senior bonfire where the director gave a speech that made you cry. You went on a senior retreat to a camp on top of a hill and at night the woods around were spooky and fabulous. Below the hills was toxic waste. So you ventured to the top instead and trembled at the creaking trees. Then you and your classmates shared your favorite songs in a cozy cabin with warm pizza. On that night, you all realized you couldn’t figure out life.
I’ve lost track of those memories after blog posts about college and college applications. I lost precious moments during senior year as well when worry erased the important bits of the day. The admission process seems like a lame evil now. It was important once, but I greatly exaggerated its value then. In the spring, while I fretted over the right button to press, some of my classmates spoke excitedly about following their vocational dreams or taking a gap year on foreign soil. I don’t want to be the person with the button anymore.
On the blogs, we often talk about applying, and choosing, and submitting, and preparing. But if you’re a senior right now, that’s not what ought to matter. Do not apply to MIT because your life goal is to go to MIT. Apply because you enjoy something, even if that something is ephemeral and vague, and MIT is on a path to it. Not the only path. Not even the definitive path.
I’ve gotten several emails this semester asking me, “Should I apply to MIT if…?” I’m not an expert in this matter, nor can I pretend to be (trust me, I have approximately 0-1% of my life figured out). But If I had to answer that question, I’d consider what I want beyond the application.
Ask yourself, why do you want to apply? Are you ready for either application decision? A “yes” can be heavy also. There is no formula to predict the outcome (this one coming from an expert, here). If MIT is a relevant step on the path towards your dreams, go for the application. No harm will come.
In the meantime, don’t think about your year in terms of buttons and short responses and numbered lines. The grocery store aisles are colored festive. There’s limited edition egg nog and pumpkin spice. You’re in the final days of autumn. The final months of seeing all your high school friends together.
Two years later, what will you remember?
P.S.: Thank you, Lydia, for the awesome blog prompt!