Zaynab E.

Confessions From The College Front Line: Shifting Relationships 

Senior year is here. The train is on the track. Every senior I know is running as fast as they can to catch the train and hop on before the college applications depart the station. Resumes, lists, essays, visits, as well as the normal school workload—seniors definitely feel the heat from the college process flames. Last year, I thought I was prepared to head into the process because I had watched my sister run the gauntlet of college applications three years prior. Boy, was I wrong.

Being in it versus watching it is a whole other monster. For the past three years, everyone has been warning us how hard it will be. So far, all the dire warnings have proved true. And I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. Julia V. ’20 lamented, “It’s been just as stressful as everyone said it would be.”

Some of our other classmates feel this stress even more, in different ways. “It can be exciting because I am finding lots of schools that really excite me and that I can see myself going to, but at the same time, the college process compounded with being a high school student at Westridge is honestly terribly exhausting,” described senior Jamie G.

Abby Y. ‘20 is feeling the same compounding stress as Jamie: “The college process has been very stressful. It’s hard because everyone around you is in it, yet we’re still all on completely different paths. So while we’re all in it together, we’re all really on an individual journey that requires a lot of self motivation (which I don’t really have).”

The idea of stress gets tossed around a lot at Westridge, but this is a time when I feel its use is deserved. For me, it’s not just the process of college admissions on top of regular school work and activities. For me, everything seems compounded by this underlying sense of impending finality. College means graduation. And graduation means leaving Westridge—for good.

One year from now (if all goes according to plan), I will be gone, far away from the Westridge world, leading a whole different life with a whole different group of people. The change is dizzyingly quick and kind of intimidating.

As if reconsidering my relationship to Westridge wasn’t enough, relationships with my classmates seem to be shifting as well. A new air of competition has entered the grade, and it has become hard to follow College Counseling’s well-meaning rule to “stay in your lane.” Asking one senior Audrey Y., where she thought our grade was in terms of staying in our lanes, she laughed, “Yeah, I think our grade is not good at that. We suck at that.” She described how hard it can be to keep the process to yourself, “It’s our last year together, and I’d hate for it to be spent trying to ‘best’ the other person, so whenever the topic of college comes up like in the sense of testing or GPA, I try to stay out of it or shift the conversation.”

Easier said than done. Every day seems like a new space where I am supposed to “sell myself,” and doing that next to classmates I already look up to is honestly exhausting and degrading. During college visits when reps come to campus, you’re sitting in the room with everyone else in your grade who is planning to apply to that college. It takes a whole lot of self control not to look around and ask myself, what do I have that they don’t?

How do I stop comparing and, yes, competing when everyone is asking you to share why YOU are the best for their school, why YOU deserve a scholarship, why YOU stand out?

It’s our last year, and we should be soaking up the glorious friendships we have shared over four years, but instead our grade feels compelled to compare and look at each other as competitors. I don’t want to have to think like this, but I can’t help it. My best friend and I are applying to the same school—what happens to our friendship on decision day if one of us is in and the other is out? Of course I’ll be happy for her or me or both, but more than likely, one of us will be disappointed, and knowing that our joy will also be tinged with the other’s sadness is tough to stomach even now.

The thing is, I want to blame someone for this new disgusting competition floating around. I want someone to be at fault for pitting some of the most amazing young women against each other, but there is no one to take it out on—our competition is our own fault and most importantly, the college process as a whole. It’s the nature of the beast.

And props certainly go to the Westridge College Counseling office, who yell important advice and suggestions from the sidelines of the ring while we seniors strap on a saddle and helmet and ride that beast into May. The college counselors feel the change in the air just as much as we do. They want us to do our best by ourselves and leave everyone out of it.

Applying to college is what it is, but Westridge does a great job at preparing us not only for college but for the college process itself. I’d like to think that between our families and friends, we can navigate the rest.

My motto going into this year was to stay focused. It’s only September, but that focus has already shifted. My new motto is to lift yourself and your peers up as much as possible. So much of the college process demands our time and energy. It takes a toll on our relationships: to our families, our friends, and most importantly, to ourselves. Lifting myself and my peers up shifts the focus away from competition and exhausting work to celebrating our education and future. It just isn’t worth it to give the college process more power than it already claims.


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