In my most recent blog I began exploring the important lessons girls can learn from the college application process. In this blog I will reveal two more ways applying to college helps girls undermine and overcome the Curse of the Good Girl.
1. Criticism is Constructive
Because girls are under a constant and intense pressure to be good at everything they do, criticism can feel like the end of the world. Many girls have trouble distinguishing their external actions from their internal worth. Subsequently, if someone points out to a girl that her passes were weak during the big game, she may interpret that criticism of her performance as a swipe at her worth as a basketball player. Here’s the basic formula (and they said I wasn’t good at math!):
Criticism of behavior+ pressure to be perfect= Criticism of person
So it’s no wonder that girls have trouble accepting criticism.
Students are no strangers to constructive criticism; we see it all the time in comments on papers, report cards and in parent-teacher conferences. But it’s easy to hide a test with a disappointing grade in the back of a notebook, and it’s easy to brush off a teacher’s comment as evidence of their hatred of you.
Girls like me are hurt by constructive criticism because it means we are not doing our job of being a Good Girl very well, so we push criticism out of sight. And we pretend it is out of mind, but all the while we are beating ourselves up for failing and promising to do better next time.
When applying to college, it’s difficult to discount constructive criticism because the stakes are too high. My friend Alice’s college counselor said her dream school was a reach, which is admissions lingo for ”you probably won’t get in to that school.” Her counselor suggested similar, less elite, schools to Alice, but the criticism stung. Yet after researching her dream school some more, she realized the counselor was right.
Instead of ignoring the counselor’s advice and applying to a school she couldn’t “reach” even if she had a ladder, Alice applied to another great school and was accepted! Alice learned a valuable lesson. She realized that the fact that she did not have the kind of grades or test scores her dream school looks for does not mean she is a bad person. And the fact that her counselor told her so does not mean the counselor is a bad person, either.
2. Life’s Not Fair
This is possibly the most important, and definitely most difficult, lesson the college application process teaches girls. I learned this lesson…..big time. I was deferred from my first choice college. And it’s not clear why. Unlike Alice, I was given the go ahead from college counselors; my extra curricular activities are off the hook (if I do say so myself; Ed.’s Note: They most certainly are), and my grades are strong. Guess I just didn’t have that elusive ‘X factor.’ I could spend all day theorizing about why I wasn’t accepted.
But at the end of the day, I know I’ve learned an important lesson. Things don’t always work out. How you react to bad news is often a better indication of someone’s character than if they received good news. In other words, getting into college is really hard, and when you get in to a school people will be able to quickly ascertain how smart you are based on where the school you are going to falls on the USA Today list. But if you don’t get in to college the first time around, people will be able to see what kind of person you are based on how you handle the news.
Girls try so hard to be perfect, so it is difficult to imagine that our hard work will not pay off. Sometimes it does, but often it does not. We won’t always get the guy. We won’t always get the credit we deserve. When I got deferred I learned that you can’t always rely on the powers that be and you can’t rely on the fact that things should work out. But I now know that, regardless of the magnitude of the disappointment, I can rely on my ability to bounce back. And that is a lesson I hope every girl learns.