The college admission process is not the same as it was decades ago. Straight As are no longer an incredible achievement, and as admissions become more competitive, students are increasingly packing their schedules with other ways to stand out. We're told we should sign up for the most rigorous classes, take SAT prep courses, be involved in numerous clubs, volunteer on a regular basis, intern, play a sport, have a job, and more.
I feel the idea of standing out in different ways was conceived with good intentions, but unfortunately has taken an ugly turn. Nowadays, the above list of what used to be mere options is becoming a fundamental checklist. I need to play my sport all 4 years, to show I'm not a quitter. If I'm not in my school's community service clubs, it looks like I'm selfish. We pack our agendas to the very brim, dedicating hours of work for one more section for our resume.
Not to say that every high school student is volunteering or interning for the sake of their application; these can be great opportunities to meet new people, gain valuable skills for the real world, explore fields of interest, or much more. The thing that is currently making me uneasy is that I feel this harmless competition has turned into a war. We almost glamorize the idea of not having a life, not getting enough sleep, or not having time to spend with friends or family. When someone says that they only got five hours of sleep, someone else will quickly boast that they only got three. Someones complains about a project and the first response is, "Well you're lucky you're not doing blah-blah-blah too." It's turned into a game of who-can-drown-in-as-many-responsibilities-as-possible-without-having-a-total-mental-breakdown.
I admit that I've been guilty of fighting in this war, until I had an epiphany (that may or may not have been a result of a slight nervous breakdown). I never actually wondered why we take such pride in making ourselves unhappy by trying to adhere to these impossible standards. We can't hold ourselves responsible for carrying the weight of the world.
The reason I'm now so uneasy about this mindset is because I recently had to give up something I truly did love, because I was lacking in the necessities. Never going to sleep before midnight, waking up extra early for zero period, and rarely seeing my family because during the times I actually was at home, I was locked away in my room (or dungeon, as my mom calls it) doing homework just became normal life, the way I thought things "should be". I know I'm a perfectionist, but sadly, this thought process is normal for thousands of other high school students. Putting our sleeping time, friends and family time, and plain old alone time on the back burner quickly takes a toll on mental and physical health. The consequences can range from deteriorating relationships, slipping grades, even anxiety and depression.
I really didn't want to back out of of one of extracurriculars. I truly wish that a day consisted of more than 24 hours so I could do more. But I know people who hate their sports, who moan every time they have to go to a club meeting, or sigh when they have to go do community service. We have become so obsessed with this cookie cutter mold of "This is what an Ivy League student looks like" that we've lost sight of our own selves.
I'm a lot now happier than I was before. The only regret I have is not caring about myself sooner.