A few days ago I walked into the bookstore to buy “Flatland” for my unweighted Philosophy in Art and Science class. The novel is about a square named A Square, who lives in a two-dimensional world in which everyone appears to be either a line or a point, with only shadowing to imply a person’s shape. It’s funny that I was buying this reductionist book when I was bombarded by an onslaught of questions from two curious sophomores regarding my college process: “Where are you going to college? Did you get in early? Did you apply for financial aid? How much money did you get? How many weighted classes are you taking? What’s your GPA? What got you into that school anyway?” and more.
The fact that these students meant well and had no idea that they were potentially being offensive only contributed to the directness of their approach, and the pointing fingers and shrill voices that accompanied the interrogation were overwhelming to the point that I had to duck out of the bookstore through the side door in order to catch my breath. This incident brings to mind a few issues.
First, a lot of seniors aren’t sure where they’re going to college yet. Sure, it’s true that with only a few days left until May 1, they should be pretty certain about their academic futures, but what with multiple offers, financial aid and waiting lists to consider, the decision is indubitably a complicated and nerve-wracking one. It’s generally good to not be so direct with this topic, and when asking, proceed with caution, not a shrill voice and pointing fingers. All in all, sensitivity is highly encouraged.
Second, the point about a senior going to one college or another is that the student has found a school fit to be a nurturing and stimulating environment to prepare him, her or them for the rest of his, her or their life. The point is not how the student got in or what the school saw in the student or what another school didn’t see in the student. Congratulations should precede any more personal college questions regardless of your personal opinions of the school in question. The senior has survived one of the most arduous high schools in the country and has found a school lucky enough to receive him, her or them as a scholar on its campus, and that in itself is worth applauding.
But these two points only address the manifestations of the problem at hand, not the actual issue. It seems to me that the focus of these questions or conversations regarding college is misguided. Like in Flatland, individuals in the college process are seen merely as points and lines instead of being seen in their full shape. The focus should not be on the results and the statistics of a student’s college admissions process, which are merely a shadow of who these people are. The focus should be on how they got to where they are.
It’s understandable that, with its reputation and undoubtedly impressive numbers, people see Harvard-Westlake as a path to a good or great college. But our school is not a springboard nor simply a means to an end. We are in an environment with a collection of some of the most profound faculty and student minds in the world. Our classrooms are more than where we learn how to memorize facts; they foster conversations that enlighten our views of the world and human understanding. Our lunch tables are more than places to study and discuss test results; they allow us to enjoy the richness of being around the talents and personalities of our peers. The school is a place to grow as individuals and flourish into more fully developed people prepared to take on the world.
It’s true that most Harvard-Westlake students go straight from high school into college, but attending a college preparatory school does not mean we have to be part of an assembly line for college admissions. We are not merely points and lines in the two-dimensional plane of “where did you get in.” We are people first and foremost, and college is not an end goal but a step toward who we aim to be as individuals. High school is part of the learning curve as well.
Of course the pressure to attend a good college is understandable and useful as motivation, but it is by no means the most important part of Harvard-Westlake. We attend a school with resources such as nationally acclaimed sports teams and classes that outsiders would be lucky to find in college, let alone in high school. A lot of these classes are unweighted, but why does that matter? I’m taking my seminar-style philosophy class because the teachers are amazing and the subject matter is fascinating. Those are all of the reasons I need, because when else will I get the opportunity?
Fine, taking such classes or utilizing such resources may not help your GPA. But what can seem counterintuitive is that reevaluating one’s classes may help in the college process. Admissions officers can tell when a student is loading up on classes just for the statistics versus when a student is pursuing a passion, and the latter is much more interesting. Since our school has so many outlets for student interests, some colleges may even find it strange if a student writes about a hobby that he, she or they could have pursued in school but isn’t on the transcript.
So take a step back from the admittedly overwhelming pressure of college looming over your head, and examine the choices you’re making in high school. Take advantage of the ample opportunities we have to find things that we love doing. Who knows? Besides helping to figure out your future career, your new passion could help get you into some of those colleges you’re hoping for. Just think about it.