More than just a college applicant

Keely Jenkins

Working as a barista at Peet’s Coffee and Tea, it’s not unusual for customers to make small talk. While I am making their drinks they will inquire about my day, favorite drinks, or opinion about the weather. Sometimes the conversation topics will lead to my education, and when I comment that I am a senior at Redwood, their immediate reaction is to ask where I’m applying to college.

This college interrogation scenario is one that is repeated in grocery stores, schools, and during dinner parties. Family friends will ask me about which colleges I hope to attend, or inquire about my GPA. They proceed to advise me about the likelihood of my acceptance into well-known universities. Sometimes they focus on the application itself, asking how much I have completed or which essay prompt I selected.

A part of me understands the curiosity; last year I did not hesitate to question my peers about to which colleges they were applying. It’s a life-changing, multi-thousand-dollar decision that is highly anticipated in the Redwood community—of course adults and peers are interested about what we want to do with our lives.

college conversation
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Last year, my classmates seemed happy to answer my questions about college, but as deadlines approached their responses became colder. Now, enduring the college application process myself, I empathize with the graduated seniors. So many people ask me about college that I wonder if people forget I am more than just a college applicant.

To all who ask about our college choice: you should know that the process is stressful. For many, writing essays for college applications polluted our summers with the pressure of trying to reveal our character in 650 words or less. The variation of deadlines and applications can be frustrating and difficult to monitor. Essays and supplements consume our weekends while deadlines like early action, early deadline, rolling admission, and regular admission create a kaleidoscope of options that all have contrasting requirements.

Being asked about which schools we are applying to triggers stress, reminding us of the stigma placed on being admitted to a distinguished college.

There is also the fact that not everyone is planning to attend a four-year college, or follow the college path at all. To assume that the senior in front of you is applying to a university can make students feel inadequate due to their choice to enter community college or not attend college. It is also often overlooked that not everyone is able to afford the tuition at four-year universities. The idea that there is only one acceptable path after high school, a four-year university that ends with at least a bachelor’s degree, is a common expectation promoted in Marin County.

Furthermore, by revealing which colleges we hope to attend, we reveal a significant amount of information about our academic achievements. Redwood is known for its high academic expectations, but not everyone can highlight their strengths in high school. There is no class for automotive building, animal care, or other subjects in which a teenager might excel.

Therefore, universities that are not generally regarded as prestigious become the best option and can help students be more successful. However, the negative view of lesser universities still remains, making it embarrassing for some students to admit which colleges they wish to attend.

If you cannot resist the urge to ask what Redwood seniors are aspiring to do after high school, consider asking us this: “What are your plans for the future?” This question is broad and grants us control over how much college is a part of the discussion, if at all.

Remember that we are human beings—we have interests, ideas, and hopes for the future that are not solely represented by our plans for college. Asking about our career aspirations increases the chance of a worthy discussion. Learning about someone’s aspirations to be a nurse, travel abroad, take a gap year to work, or become an actor communicates more about an individual than their desire to go to UCLA, Harvard, or Stanford.