Last week (brace yourself, this is going to be a gross sentence), I was deferred from my first choice college. I’m okay (she writes through her tears). No, actually I feel surprisingly okay with what happened. But as I prepare my second round of applications, I’ve been thinking about how applying to college both reinforces and undermines many of the pressures girls face.
The admissions process confirms our terrifying suspicion that we have to be perfect at everything we do (oh, and we have to do everything.) Never mind Achilles’ heel or Superman’s kryptonite, selective colleges are looking for flawless applications. And girls are all too willing to be perpetually stressed in order to get straight A’s, write college essays that will make readers laugh and cry, play varsity sports, run clubs and star in the musical (bonus points if they have any semblance of a social life).
My college counselors, teachers, family, and friends never thought my mediocre math score on the SATs would outweigh my accomplishments, good grades, and stellar recommendations. And we certainly didn’t think the admissions officers would overlook my generous bribe!
Although applying to college reinforces the pressure girls* feel to be great at everything, the process is also kind of wonderful. It is incredibly stressful, hectic and emotionally difficult to apply to colleges but I believe there are six valuable lessons for girls hidden in the application process. In the next two weeks, I will address these important, yet rarely discussed, lessons.
1. It’s Okay to Like Your Picture!
At the Girls Leadership Institute we talked about how, in elementary school, when someone complimented a picture we had drawn we would often disagree and say it was ugly. We discussed how many girls never stop resisting compliments because girls are socially punished for being immodest. But when applying to colleges, not only is it “okay to like your picture,” as one of my fellow alums, Emily, said, it is essential that you talk about how much you like your picture.
Applying to college provides girls with a tremendous opportunity to practice being their own advocates. I have heard friends lamenting about how much they dislike “bragging” during admissions interviews. But it is important for college counselors and parents to encourage unabashed (yet not totally obnoxious) self-promotion.
My peers have accomplished amazing things. And it’s about time we start talking about how we helped an African village, scored a winning goal, became a nationally ranked ice skater, won an award for photography, choreographed a dance and still made it home for dinner. The college process foreshadows the process of finding a job and it is a wonderful time for girls to practice talking about how much they love their pictures.
2. Who Do You Want to Be?
Most kids are seventeen when they begin the college process. At seventeen, it’s hard to figure out who you want to be for the next four months (party girl or study buddy?), so imagine my surprise when I had to start thinking about who I want to be for the next four years!
Because of the college process I have discovered I like the Midwest (go figure), I don’t want to go to an all-women’s college, I want a school that values Women’s and Gender studies, and I like creativity but dislike disorganization. These may not seem like important epiphanies, but I do feel like I’m verbalizing preferences that make me who I am for the first time.
On a more personal note, the college process is a chance to learn more about our families, and where we come from. I’m a triplet, and my brothers and I were on this crazy journey together. I also feel like I understand my older brother better now that I have visited his alma mater.
Visiting colleges can be excruciating, but it is a great last chance to travel with your family before shipping off. You can learn a lot about your parents when you’re squished into a tiny rental car running late for an interview. And watching siblings navigate the college process can bring you closer together. Now, I hope you’ll bear with me while I give a quick shout out to two of my favorite brothers. Congratulations, Isaac and Noah! I’m so proud of you for getting in to your first choice schools!
3. Interacting with Adults 101
Over the course of the college process, I have navigated unique relationships. As Rachel discusses in The Curse of the Good Girl, girls often have trouble distinguishing friendships from working relationships. Although my college counselors know a lot (a lot!) about me, I know they are not my friends. It is a difficult relationship to define because I am, in a sense, their client. But they are also my bosses because when they say “retake the SATs,” I ask, “How high?”
Forming a relationship with college counselors is a great way to practice setting up meetings, writing friendly yet professional emails, and sharing without over-sharing. In short, I imagine that student/college counselor relationships are similar to the employee/boss dynamics.
I have also had to hone my ability to talk effortlessly and intelligently with strangers. During an interview, you may be asked questions but, in my experience, you are often expected to converse without many prompts. I feel confident that, as an adult, I will be able to schmooze while conveying my strengths. The college process exposes girls to situations in which they must practice being a part of adult, professional relationships. And no lesson is too small. For an example, I have friends who never thought about the importance of a firm handshake before they started meeting school representatives.
*I do not deny that boys feel similar pressure to be perfect. And I know being a high school senior isn’t easy for anyone. As is my practice, I will focus on how girls in particular can benefit from the college process because of the opportunities it presents them with to undermine the Curse of the Good Girl.
Furthermore, it is increasingly clear that schools admit boys at higher rates than girls because more girls apply to college than boys and schools want to maintain fairly balanced girl/boy ratios. Subsequently, it is more difficult for girls to get accepted. Next week, I’ll continue exploring the lessons girls learn when they apply to college.
Lilly is a high school senior and guest blogger for RachelSimmons.com. Read more about her here.