The college waiting game is over

By Kara Kubarych

Finally, the white elephant has left the room. No, I’m not talking about the economy, Rod Blagojevich, or Malawi rejecting Madonna’s most recent adoption request. I’m talking about college admissions decisions for high school seniors across the country.

With a record number of high school students applying to college this year, admissions offices have been scrambling to revise and refine past formulas for admittance and yield rates and admit a diverse and talented freshmen classes, while everyone tries to figure out how to pay for it all. For students, this has translated into confusion, unpredictability, and mind-bending stress.

I’m not even sure I can count how many times I’ve been asked “Where do you want to go to college?” in the past year. While this seemingly simple question may seem harmless enough, it is actually incredibly loaded, since the majority of people asking it had some kind of agenda-probing to make a judgment on how smart (or not smart) I am, how hard I work (or don’t work), what my GPA and SAT scores are and if I am a contender or a party animal.

Given that choosing a college is one of the most deeply personal and important decisions a teenager makes, the application process made me feel naked in public.

Though a little more privacy would have been nice, I soon learned that the “Where do you want to go?” question was a mere warm up to the post-application inquisition.

“What are your top three schools? Did you apply early decision? West Coast versus East Coast? Big school or small school? What are you majoring in? What do your parents want you to do? Do you have legacy anywhere? What does the college councilor say? Heard anything yet?” The torture of the constant questioning-and unsolicited advice-that started junior year seemed never-ending.

After being denied early admission to Stanford University on Dec. 15, 2008, which at the time seemed like the worst day of my life, the last thing I wanted to do was answer any more questions.

The Stanford rejection felt like a kick in the gut, and I didn’t know where, or even if, I wanted to go to college after that. Digging wells in a remote desert village was rapidly moving up my list. I lost confidence in myself and my achievements. I was angry at myself for my perceived failure. And my parents were infuriated by their inability to protect me.

The game then became avoiding the ubiquitous questions. I perfected the vague and elusive response to any college related question. Smile sweetly. Look down. “I like a lot of schools,” I would say, changing the subject, as the voice inside my head screamed.

As I spent my entire winter vacation slogging through additional applications and supplemental essays, I came to terms with the Stanford decision, recognizing that a school-or anything for that matter-should not have the power to determine who I am and how I feel about myself. That power is mine. That power is within each one of us.

As winter turned to spring and I regained a sense of confidence and control over myself, admissions decisions started rolling in-reflecting not my previous sense of powerless victimization, but instead mirroring my hard work and positive and hopeful spirit.

First came the congratulations from the UC schools. Then I started to hear back from the liberal arts schools I applied to, jumping with joy at several exciting offers.

A few schools put me on their waiting list, and a couple said “No.” Finally the end of March arrived. On March 31 at 2:00 p.m. admissions decisions for the Ivy League colleges were posted online. With no expectation of acceptance and good choices already in my pocket, I was calm-until I logged on and saw the words “Congratulations, Welcome to the Class of 2013!” on more than one of the Web sites that I entered.

Once all the decisions were offered, I was struck by the randomness of the entire college admissions process. I didn’t get into some schools that I had considered “Safeties,” but was accepted at others I thought I had no chance at getting in. Though I’ll never buy a lottery ticket, I feel I have already gambled in the wildest game imaginable.

After riding the college roller-coast for the past year, I would like to share just two simple pieces of advice with next year’s seniors. One, get used to being questioned and get over it, and two, have faith in yourself and your accomplishments. Because as the cliche says, “it will all work out in the end.”

Kara Kubarych will be attending Harvard University next year.