The college process is not a competition

Kate Schrage

It’s the college race. It starts for most in ninth grade. Sometimes there are faulty starts or changes in direction, hurdles or shortcomings. But nevertheless, it is a race.

And much like any other race, it is not often our own performances which we worry so much about — it’s those of our opponents.

It’s not too far a reach to say that college is a driving force behind most life at Harvard-Westlake. College determines which classes we take, which clubs we join, which sports we play and which extracurriculars we prioritize.

Much like a runner, your upcoming races determine which exercises you practice and how often you do them.

However, regardless of our preparation for this upcoming process, nothing can change the fact that, as we approach the starting line, all we can think about are the runners against us.

Too often do I find myself doing test preparation or applying for programs and having only my competition in mind. Too often is it impossible for me to be genuinely happy for someone else’s accomplishments.

Instead of being happy for anybody else, I only take their wins as my losses, things that I now must find a way to beat or overshadow. And as much as I would like to believe Chelsea Handler when she says, “There is room for everybody,” the truth is that, in applying for college, there isn’t.

Living so defensively is not only dangerous for my own well-being but also to the relationships with others around me.

My own best friends and I have started keeping secrets from each other about the schools that we’re interested in and have begun playing elusive games about our plans for internships and colleges programs.

I’ve let a process that, beyond my best efforts, is entirely out of my hands destroy and complicate valuable relationships that are worth more than any internship or summer program in the end.

I’ve stopped focusing on my own resume and achievements to try to drag others down about theirs, spending more energy on diminishing the assets of my friends than building up my own. Unfortunately, I think this negative thinking has become an epidemic around the community, very evident in the backlash after this year’s college admission decisions.

While nobody can be blamed for being upset with perhaps not getting into their first choice school, there’s no justification for feeling the need to bring others down about their successes.

Maybe if we spent more of the college process focused on doing as much as we can to elevate ourselves instead of sabotaging others, we wouldn’t feel as much like there was more we could have done in the end. To spare ourselves the potential regret, we need to start using our time and energy on ourselves, not on our competition.

Though secrecy is inevitable in such a competitive process, moving forward, we need to minimize just how much of it is used to hurt others in our community. We need to truly understand the value behind crossing a finish line and knowing there was nothing more we could have done, regardless of the place in which we come.

And most of all, we need to learn how to celebrate the successes of others, no matter how painful it may be.

While this is all easier said than done, the earliest time to start is now. Approaching the starting line, we can’t be looking at our competitors — we need to keep our eyes on the prize to ensure we’ve given it all we’ve got.