Reporter, Jacob McNeill

Eighth grade, that’s when the sweat over college admissions started for me. That’s when I decided the goal of my high school years would be to build an application that would guarantee my admission to Yale University. After browsing Yahoo Answers questions with subjects such as “Will I get into an Ivy League school with a 15 ACT, choir, band, a service award…”, I decided to obsess over every single academic and extracurricular moment of my high school career.

Enter ninth grade. I knew that to get into a “good school,” I needed to not only obtain superb grades in rigorous classes but also involve myself in school activities. I joined DECA, FBLA, SADD, and Olympus Club along with running track and cross country and joining student council. Joining the four clubs was stupid. I paid fees to join four clubs I did very little for, all to look good on a college application. But here’s the thing, they weren’t enriching for me, nor was I extremely passionate to the point of attending every social or volunteer event the club put on.

In my sophomore year, I decided to join debate. Spending a few hours during the week to prepare for all day long debate tournaments on Saturdays was a much better investment of my time than going to hour long club events every three weeks.

I’ve learned that for me debating, working on campaigns, running cross country is extremely satisfying. Participating in numerous leadership, political, and student government organizations both in and out of school is how I enjoy spending my time. These activities are where my passions lie and are what excel in. Selective colleges want to see an applicant go to great lengths within their passions to stand out against other applicants. Exemplary and unique extracurriculars allow an applicant to be more than just a test score or transcript.  Joining countless organizations with limited involvement and limited meaning pertinence to the life of the applicant.

Good news: applicants don’t need to get a 36 on the ACT to get into a top school, or even a 35, 34, or a 32. Bad news: Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and Stanford reject more than 60% of all applicants with perfect ACT scores. The takeaway? Scores are only part of the holistic review process.

Test scores and grades are simply just a prerequisite for admission. Most students admitted to top schools come from the top 10% of their graduating class, take nearly all of the most rigorous coursework available to them, and have ACT scores falling between a 31-36. The vast majority of applicants have these qualifications. Many of these kids are applying to Yale, Duke, Georgetown, and Dartmouth, with some applying to 10+ of these types of schools.

That should be something to celebrate, not to stress over. Here’s why:  a student doesn’t need to have to be perfect academically to be competitive at these highly ranked institutions. And yes, A SUCCESSFUL APPLICANT CAN GET A B IN A CLASS. You will live. Your heart will pump, your lungs will take in air, your neurons will continue firing, and most importantly, by no means does a 2 make you stupid. I got a 2 in Honors math. I was fine.

The takeaway is that high school students should not stress over every negligible bad grade on an assignment, nor about every possible question one can encounter on the ACT math section. Rather, make an effort to do well in school while still staying sane. Commit to activities that have meaning and a sense of purpose behind them. A high school student with these thoughts in mind will have a successful and relatively lower stress four years and will no doubt end up at a great university, whether Princeton or Wesleyan.