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We regret to inform you ... you can't be yourself


Lakeridge students sound out about college application woes

Getting rejected from a college didn’t turn out to be as terrifying as I had expected. “We could have filled five entire freshman classes with 4.0 students,” the letter read.Nahas

This was followed by a few paragraphs of platitudes, none of which held much interest to me as my eyes scanned the words “regret to inform” again and again — checking, of course, to see if I had misread.

Millions of high school seniors are asking themselves this month how they failed to get into the colleges of their dreams. When you apply, colleges tell you, “Just be yourself.”

But as one admissions officer noted on his Twitter account, “This works for about 14 percent of students.”

If you collect pet rocks or own six cats, well, consider taking your business elsewhere.

“If only I could have been a stronger applicant,” is what several thousands students (and parents) are thinking, as the tears run and the “safety school” begins to beckon. “I would have collected donations for underprivileged orangutans in Southeast Asia, raised awareness for gluten allergies, become an origami instructor at a summer camp.”

The problem is that none of those things would have adhered to the phrase “just be yourself.” Getting into top-tier institutions is becoming more competitive, and the demands are pushing students into schedules more rigorous than worthwhile.

Four years ago, for example, the admittance rate for the University of Chicago was around 25 percent. This year it sunk to a lowly 8 percent. The issue is not the quality of students but the shear volume and intensity. As the world becomes more interconnected, the competition stiffens. Has college moved beyond the “study what you want/self-fulfillment” days of the past?

Lakeridge High School senior Evan Heath was accepted into some, not all, of her top choices.

“I think we’ve created a culture in the United States that vastly exaggerates the importance of prestige,” Heath mused.

At Lakeridge, a school filled with incredibly clever and valuable young men and women, we often think in terms of what Heath called “imagined hierarchies.” Are top students being pushed into academic situations based on the status or renown of a particular institution?

As I sit in calculus class, it is not uncommon to hear fellow students discussing the college rankings published by U.S. News & World Report and Princeton Review. There is an obsession with the elite and elusive quality of these Hogwarts-like institutions — and maybe for good reason. But too much focus on the title, the ranking, can ultimately lead students into the trap of superficialities.

Now it is early April, and I hold an armful of ripped letters. (Hint: The bigger the envelope, the more likely you got in.) But I also hold all that I have learned in high school: The Sunday afternoon my friend, Aaron, taught me a crash course in calculus, the time my entire English class drove to our teacher’s house to deliver an assignment, the first time I cried over a grade.

If anything, the college admissions process amplifies our greatest fears and greatest dreams, as author Marianne Williamson said: “We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?”

Lakeridge senior Rania Abdusamad is pleased with the results of her applications, but she still has regrets. She wished she had started applications the summer before because in September she struggled to “maintain extracurriculars, a good first semester report card, last-minute testing and applications.” She told me she averaged around four to five hours of sleep per night, if she was lucky. And like many other students I talked to, she regretted applying to so many institutions.

“Don’t just apply for the name,” Abdusamad said, because bottom line: Applying is expensive. “If you don’t have any intention of going to a school, don’t waste your money — let’s be honest, your parents’ money — and focus instead on colleges you do like and would do well at.”

In the past months I have answered the questions, “What do you want to do with your life?” and “Why should we accept you?” more times than I will ever have to again. It took many false starts and fallouts for me to finally realize something very simple: The things we build ourselves up with — titles, trophies — these things are externalities. While fantastic and enticing, they exist outside of us and have little to do with the people we become.

Lakeridge is a bubble — a very privileged community where almost everyone (no matter if they attend a state school or an Ivy League) will have a bright and brilliant future. In that light, what becomes important is everything internal: the student, the philosopher, the risk-taker, the friend.

When I asked Lakeridge senior Ollie Bergh how he felt about his college decision, he seemed content.

“Everyone at the school was really friendly and welcoming,” Bergh commented.

His friend, Luke Marshall, said the process in general is time consuming.

“In future years, though, they should shorten it up to let us live our lives,” Marshall noted.

(Editor’s note: Nahas has not decided which college she wants to attend.)

Lakeridge High School senior Celeste Nahas writes a monthly column for the Lake Oswego Review. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..