On my first day of seventh grade in 2009, I nervously walked into the Saperstein Theatre for the first time. Surrounded by my new classmates, I was greeted with a projection of the school’s motto: They can because they think they can. The words filled me with trepidation and fervor. I came into the Harvard-Westlake community thinking that anything was possible. I may have been naïve, but I was also determined about all the things I could accomplish here. I came into this community thinking I can do anything as long as I believed I could.
Now it’s the first week of my senior year and after a couple years spent at the upper school, I’ve come to understand what the words I saw that first day really meant. I don’t know at what point in my Harvard-Westlake career I lost the passion and confidence I had coming in, but it was definitely gone for a while.
I’m trying hard not to constantly second guess myself, but so many people have told me that this is such a crucial point in my life that it’s hard not to feel regretful. Did I try hard enough last year? Did I push myself enough? Did I do all the things I wanted to? Did I spend too much time with my friends and not enough with my teachers? Did I study for the SAT enough? Why didn’t I just take more subject tests last year? I can’t help but feel that I didn’t give it my all.
There’s no denying that junior year was incredibly stressful. I had my fair share of panic attacks and mental breakdown, but I didn’t feel as stressed about college as I should have been. For the most part I knew where I wanted to go, and I knew I’d probably get in. I had the grades for the school, and I was a good fit. It made sense. I didn’t consider any other colleges because I thought, “What’s the point?” I was comfortable with my choice because it was safe. Not to say that it isn’t a great college, and I think I would be very happy there, but I didn’t think I could push my limit when it came to college. I played it too safe last year.
The more I thought about it during the summer, the more I realized just how little confidence I had in myself during junior year. I should have been open to more colleges, but because I didn’t think I could get in, I didn’t let myself explore other colleges. I didn’t let myself aim higher because I didn’t think I had a shot anywhere else.
The deans also made sure that students didn’t have any unrealistic expectations by showing us utterly terrifying statistics in our deans meetings. I appreciate that they tried to protect us from possible disappointment but I think so many juniors came out of those weekly meetings feeling utterly crushed, like at first Harvard-Westlake told them they can and now they’re saying that they can’t.
I recently found again the ambition I had starting in seventh grade. I went on a college tour during the summer, and I’ve reconsidered my options. I’m starting a bit late, but at least I’m giving it my all.
The advice I have for my underclassmen is to have faith in yourself.
From what I’ve found, self-confidence is just as important as your GPA, your essay and your test scores because if you don’t try, you won’t get in. I’m not saying you can get into an Ivy League by just believing in yourself, but it’s crucial to be passionate and sanguine. Don’t settle before you’ve even put yourself out there.