When I heard my name being called for the “Van Patten” courtesy award at kindergarten graduation, I started beaming. My face was red, and I was on top of the world, not because of the award itself, but because I knew I could hold it over my twin brother Jack later that night.
What I did not realize was that it would cause Jack to run off the stage crying. He later told me that it did not matter what he received, but rather what I did.
Although this seemed childish, and it probably was because we were six, it strikes the same chord as today. Parallel to asking for each other’s college information, we were consumed only by how we compared.
One of the first questions posed in my AP Language: Utopias and Dystopias class this year was “when is competition in our society beneficial and when is it detrimental?” After a bit of debate and weighing the pros and cons of competition in what seemed to be an endless number of scenarios, my class was still unable to reach any general consensus.
Although I did not come out of the class with the ability to make a perfect society, a déjà vu washed over me. The type of problem that I had faced as a child manifested in the remarks between students about college.
I started to actively notice students constantly competing as they snidely undercut one another. I heard phrases such as “Oh you want to go to Stanford? That school is so hard to get into,” as if stating facts would compel the other person to not apply. Likewise, I was guilty of such fervent competition, leading to much pain.
I was no saint with Jack, and at the mature age of three, I used to push him out of his painting station and scribble over his work, leaving him on the ground as any child worthy of the “Van Patten” award would.
This action, however cruel, is fundamentally tied to the jealous mentality of high schoolers in the college process today. In my young mind, I did not care to better my own scribbles, but only to be able to present a better work than my brother.
There should be no shame in saying where you are going to apply just because it is not one of the top schools.
I don’t mean to preach what the deans say on a regular basis, but I feel strongly that the application process should be something everyone is proud of.
The process is a culmination of all our triumphs and all of our failures (and no one else’s). The application and supplemental essays themselves are shades of your personality.
Directing the bundle of thoughts and emotions and goals away from where you want them to go because of competition in the moment does not serve anybody’s future.
I have lived out the struggles of the college process in every way against my brother over the years, leading me to form my own conclusion: to compete about the past is useless; to do so is to lose time that could have been spent bettering the future.
So the next time you are posed with the question of “where do you want to apply early?” just tell the uncompromising truth and be proud of it.