What We Learned From Summer Reading: We All Need to Calm Down

Krista Blazier

You take AP and honors courses to beef up your resumé. You take miserable cram-classes and tutoring sessions to ensure an impressive score on your standardized tests. You take time that you don’t have in your already-busy schedule in order to be involved. You make your school life agonizing for yourself.


Because you “need to get into (insert college here).”

And chances are, the school you want to get into more than anything is selective. Which means you need to make yourself look highly impressive on your application. But why are we so obsessed with making our college resumés so painfully perfect that we are willing to suffer to achieve them?

This summer, juniors and seniors were assigned to read Frank Bruni’s book Where You Go is Not Who You’ll Be, which highlights the absurdity of the college admissions process.

Even if you didn’t read the book, I’m sure you can guess what Bruni’s point is from the title: the name of your alma mater does not matter. That is, where you go to college will not define your success.

You may be reading that statement and thinking that he’s crazy. After all, for all of the insanity you are putting yourself through to get admission to your number one choice school, it must matter where you go to college, right?

Well, not according to Bruni. His position is one that rips apart everything Pres girls believe: to succeed, you need to go to a selective college. To get into that college, you need to torture yourself with a rigorous academic schedule. Oh, and also, you need to get great test scores. And be involved. And have no social life.

Earth to Pres girls: calm down. I know, our school places an incredible emphasis on pure perfection. Perfect grades, perfect involvement, perfect everything. But at what cost?

Our stress surveys from last year revealed such significant results that teachers had to adjust their curriculum so we would stop having daily anxiety-induced meltdowns.

And it’s not just our school–college-prep high schools around the country are facing similar problems. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 8 percent of American teens suffer from some sort of anxiety disorder, which represents a major increase over the past twenty years.

The fact that we are pushing ourselves so hard to the point where our mental health is compromised just so we can build an impressive resumé is undeniably concerning. We need to take a step backwards and really recognize the torture we are putting ourselves through to get to a college that will not necessarily guarantee our success.

I feel as though Bruni’s point is not resonating well enough. So let me repeat it one more time: you can succeed without going to the college you have your heart set on. Stop stressing over your application so heavily; you will get in somewhere. And where you get in will probably suit you better than where you are rejected from.

“College is a singular opportunity to rummage through and luxuriate in ideas, to give your brain a vigorous workout and your soul a thorough investigation, to realize how very large the world is and to contemplate your desired place in it. And that’s being lost in the admissions mania, which sends the message that college is a sanctum to be breached–a border to be crossed–rather than a land to be inhabited and tilled for all that it’s worth,” Bruni writes.

Apparently, college is so much more than the resumé you have been trying to strengthen since your freshman year at Pres. So why is there all of the craziness about a perfect application?

No doubt, your parents, and maybe even some teachers, have heavily influenced your decision to take classes like AP Calculus or a fourth year of Spanish. The issue here is not with the classes themselves, but with the reason for taking them.

If you love Spanish and Calculus, of course, these classes are great choices. But problems and stress arise when your sole intention of taking these courses is because you want to look impressive.

Rather than selecting classes based on your interests, you pick them under pressure. Certainly, you feel less desire to actually learn and enjoy a subject when you feel forced to take it. Though your GPA is potentially boosted or your application “more impressive,” you drive yourself crazy.

And I’m sure you’ve also heard from everyone–your teachers, parents, college counsellors, et al.–that you should reach for schools that are lofty. But just in case, they say, you should also apply to some state schools. You don’t want to get your hopes up too high.

And that is a major issue at every college prep school, especially ours. We set our minds on the idea of perfection. The fact that over four years of blood, sweat and tears poured into our academics could put us at a level where we only receive admission to a school deemed “OK” is somewhat depressing.

If you have your heart set on a college that you most likely will be rejected from, take some sort of twisted comfort in this: it is nearly impossible for anyone to gain acceptance into elite colleges.

OK, maybe not impossible, but pretty close to it. Bruni suggests that unless you are some unbelievable athlete, legacy, child prodigy, or anything else extraordinary, your chances of admission are close to none.

But think about it this way, you’re not the only one who has slim chances. Rather than obsessing over colleges that you won’t get into, you should spend your time focusing on a college that is the right fit for you.

Because of our school’s reputation, I think we all feel the need to have some incredible reward other than simply our diplomas. We want acceptance to flashy colleges that will prove why we went to Pres.

But what we fail to realize is that acceptance into any school is a feat worth celebrating. And so is graduating.

No matter what colleges we go to, Pres has prepared us for success in ways that other schools may not have prepared their students. We will find ways to succeed in any environment and make the best of what we are given.

College has no monopoly on the ingredients for professional success or for a life well lived.”

— Bruni

Ladies, stop beating yourself up and feeding into the obsession our student body has over academic perfection and glimmering resumés.

Of course, college is important. But the main point of college is to learn and grow, not to have a fancy alma mater to throw around in conversation.

Bruni may be a bit extreme in his assertion that college has virtually no impact on your life, but the point is, we should not torment ourselves over our college future so incessantly.

So when you are stressed out, simply remember: Where You Go is Not Who You’ll Be. Literally.