I believe you.
I believe you when you say that this has been the hardest part of your life. I refuse to be one of the million adults who dismiss the trauma of un-belonging, as a ‘childish whim’. College admissions are probably the first big reality check we are subjected to. We emerge from the safe cocoon of the school, and step into the knee-deep muck of our ‘education system’, and life in general. Three years ago, when I first stepped out of my sheltered school life, I wish somebody had given me a ‘heads up’ about the landscape outside. I did not need a cheat code. However, a manual from a kind senior would have been a terrific gift.
I agree that time heals all wounds, but I still cannot bring myself to laugh at it. The memory of me burying my head in the bed and crying for hours, will never be funny. The cuts and bruises gained from learning life first hand, will never be the butt of my jokes. You will forgive the present struggle, but I hope you never forget it.
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Here are some things that my phase of college admissions taught me.
- You are not as important as your school made you believe.
I was a prefect in high school. We got those tiny badges which, at 17, seemed like a huge trophy to bear. The Student Council was a group of roughly 30 members who got the power to ‘oversee the conduct’ of 1,600 students. Being invested with such authority meant the world to each of us, whether or not we ever admit it.
When I joined college, I learned that almost all the people in my immediate circle had led their school in one way or another. We were not ‘one of a kind’ guardian angels. We were actually very, very common. Every now and then, when I’m shuffling through my closet, I catch a glimpse of that sparkly metal. It looks a lot like a toy now.
- You are not as small as the System makes you think.
Ever since I was 10, I knew I would make a career surrounding literature. So, when I lined up for my favorite colleges, I was fairly certain that I was going to earn a seat. Needless to say, I did not. I was rejected from both the colleges that I aspired for. I cursed school, I cursed myself for believing that if I could top my class in school, then I was worthy of pristine colleges.
As it turns out, none of these ‘results’ are about your ‘worth’. They are merely about your state of mind in that particular hour, or the disposition of the examiner. You are not unworthy, or undeserving, simply because you did not make the list of an Institution. I am living proof that a failed Entrance Test does not kill you. Bring colleges off the pedestal you put them on.
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- You will have to work super hard, in spite of your rank.
Three years of jotting down running notes, and finding the ‘correct’ tuition, have taught me that it all rests on the student. Good professors are a boost, an add-on benefit, an ‘extra’. They are not the main characters of your story.
If you want the ‘education’ of pristine colleges, without being in them, then follow their syllabus on your own time. If the discipline is what matters, more than the ‘brand’ of an Institution, then there are ample ways to gain that knowledge by yourself. Your degree certificate will not come engraved with the course syllabus. What knowledge you harbor is restricted only by your unwillingness to go out and get it.
- The brand does not matter.
This sounded like a rotten cliché when I was starting out, but it is anything but. Imagine Sarojini Nagar. Imagine Gariahat. Think of the whole indigenous v/s foreign struggle. We forget that the ‘brand value’ of something matters less than what it is selling.
When I was rejected from the college of my choice, I had to ‘settle’ for one that I had barely even considered. I disliked that Institution so much that I had sat for their Entrance Test as a ‘joke’. Having graduated from the same Institution, I cannot possibly count the number of brilliant memories I made. Even on the educational front, I found helpful and extremely skilled professors, whom I had erstwhile dismissed because the college was not ‘hip’ enough. I worked insanely hard and spent three years achieving a lot of goals I set for myself.
It did not matter that I never got to sit in my ‘dream University’, because that could not stop me from doing the things I wanted to. I learned to love what I had, and realized that I had lucked out.
- If you hate it, then it is okay to opt out, and try again.
I made my peace with the situation, but not everybody can. I had the privilege of stumbling into a place that actually grew on me, with a batch that was one of a kind. There is a possibility that you might not like what is given to you. In that case, I promise that it is okay to take a step back and reconsider. Too many people stick to things they hate, simply because it is embarrassing to quit, or take a year off. Why suffer so much, simply because you are afraid of letting other people down? The situation is almost never as bad as you make it out to be inside your head.
Give everything you have to the course you have chosen, or one that has chosen you. If it does not work out, if it causes you pain and despair, step away. Changing your goals, or even taking time off to try again, is never a source of shame. I hope you have the support of your friends and family. But even if you do not, make sure you support yourself. ‘What will people say?’, is a stupid thought process meant to subdue your aspirations, especially when those ‘people’ will not fight your obstacles for you.
- This is only the beginning.
Once I was done with the post-school hassle of finding a college, I thought that was the end of it. I had learned a plethora of life lessons, and felt a barrage of unpleasant emotions. I had an inventory of tactics that, I thought, would help me battle it out for the rest of my educational endeavors. I could not have hit father away from the truth.
In reality, life just gets harder. The key is to ‘accept’ it as it is. When we overcome one obstacle, our sign of relief almost always fosters the belief that we will not have to step into the muck again. Do not let this delusion fool you. The post-graduation struggle is much harder. You will have to make up your mind about a particular career, without dilly dallying. The greater concern is that you will probably have to do it on your own. As a kid, our parents did most of the toiling for us. This time around, you will have to stand in the three-hour long queues, you will have to follow up with the colleges, you will have to find your own solutions. While it is taxing to a breaking point, it is also where you gradually transform into an adult.
Admission procedures are hardly ever smooth sailing. There is no cheat code, no possible ‘escape’, no discarding of what is real. I disagree with people who say, “You need this in order to grow”. You do not. Honestly, nobody ‘needs’ pain. Your life is not supposed to be a factory for melancholy. You do not ‘need’ to be run over, to be wronged, to be hardened through utter injustice and disappointment. But you are. As Sherlock says, “It is what it is”, and that is the whole truth. This particular period of your life will seem unfair, heart breaking, and quite frankly, like the Mayan Apocalypse. But it is not. It is hard, and cruel, but it is not the end of you. It will never be.
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No piece of paper, no University, no course of study should ever have the power to make your world come crashing down. There are a million routes to get to wherever you want. So what if your plan did not work out? So what if the route is complicated and exhausting? So what if you do not take the conventional path to success? None of this has the power to invalidate your dreams. You are what you make of yourself, and it will always be up to you to see it through.
I wish you strength, I wish you peace, and I wish you the calm of mind that reminds you that you make your own destiny.
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