Welcome to our special section, Thrive on Campus, devoted to covering the urgent issue of mental health among college and university students from all angles. If you are a college student, we invite you to apply to be an Editor-at-Large, or to simply contribute (please tag your pieces ThriveOnCampus). We welcome faculty, clinicians, and graduates to contribute as well. Read more here.
Now that I am starting my second semester at Yale, I would like to humbly offer some advice to you regarding senior year and the college application process.
Applying to college is stressful, and denying that is fruitless. Senior year is full of uncertainties and of firsts and lasts. Amidst writing applications, homework, and extracurriculars, you will have moments of sadness and moments of ecstasy, the lowest of lows and the highest of highs. And you will have to consistently work hard through it all, keeping your head on straight and your heart open. You will struggle to answer questions like, “Where do you want to go to college?” and, “What do you want to major in?”, questions to which you still may not know the answer.
For the last 18 years, you have created a genuine identity that is you, Samuel. Colleges only want to know who you are at your core, and that certainly doesn’t start in senior year. So you can let yourself breathe a little: The hard work is mostly done.
You may place enormous weight on where you get in and where you don’t, but you need to know that it doesn’t really matter in the end. What does matter is your character, your core, and your grit. You have demonstrated this before — freshman year specifically — and I want you to know that it is the kindness you exhibit when no one sees, that I want you to embrace. Optimism and kindness make you loved, not the name of your college. College is only a four-year chapter in the long story of your life. It’s not where you go that defines you but what you do with your education and leadership.
When you arrive in college, you will realize that your classmates hail from all over the world, and they all have worked hard and endured too. They have had different losses and different successes. Embrace and enjoy their back stories and them as people. You all are the future of this country. You must leave this earth in a better condition then how it was handed to you. And you are capable of doing that regardless of your SAT score or acceptance letters. I care about your character and health, not your ACT score and accolades.
This is a beautiful planet we live on and our time here is so short, so do give it everything you have. But too much stress can endanger your mental health, and you have come too far to let anything endanger you. If you feel over stressed, reach out to someone and talk it out. There is always help.
The college application process is sometimes stressful because you feel you are handing over your life facts for evaluation, but evaluation does not decide whether you are “good enough.” College admissions simply evaluate whether you are the right fit for their institution and at that moment. Mom explained the process to me this way: Imagine you are George Clooney. George should get any part in a play, if he auditions. But, what George doesn’t know is that the casting executives may be looking for someone to fit the role of Annie. And if they are, George, you may not get the part. But that doesn’t mean that you aren’t fabulous; it just means you’re not right for this specific role. So listen to me clearly: Where you get in does not determine your value or your success. Show me what you do with it, and then we can talk.
You are at a crossroads in your life and an important moment of transition, and I would encourage you not to let the stress of college admissions overshadow the remaining time that you have with your family, friends, and school. At the end of the admissions process, you will discover that friendship is the most important part of your senior year. Success is only meaningful when you have friends with whom you can celebrate. Don’t worry about your major, classes, your career. Live in the present and use the gift of time that you have right now wisely.
In the grand scheme of life, the name of your college is very unimportant. Don’t let your pursuit of a name impact who you are, because no matter where you are, you will be the same person and you will be living with yourself. No matter where you go to college, you can be happy and successful. If you look at the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, you will see that they went to a wide diversity of schools. And guess what, if you really didn’t make the right choice, you can always investigate other options. Nothing is forever, except one thing. And that is that the village that stands behind you — the people in your life whom you love and who love you — is what matters.
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