02/29/2012 10:16 am ET Updated Apr 30, 2012

If I Ace the Test, Will I Be the Best?

I don't always pass my tests. I find it difficult to finish my homework. I didn't do great on the SAT. I'm not taking any AP classes. I'm not a great student.

I like to intern. I like to volunteer. I enjoy reading. I enjoy writing. I like to attend events, and meet new people. I'm a great learner.

Every day, I wonder where I will be in a few years, and a few more years after that. As a high school junior I am constantly reminded of the nearing college application process, and the burden is not an easy one to carry. Balancing time for school, family, friends, volunteering, and sleep is incredibly difficult. So I ask myself, "What is most important to me?" and I never answer with "school." Education is not a one-size-fits-all experience. Education is not limited to a classroom -- far from it in my experience. When I intern or volunteer, it's because I want to gain first-hand experience, and make a difference. During the summer of 2011, I began interning at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in the Preventive Medicine Department, and volunteering at New York Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center on the Neurology Unit. These experiences have given me tremendous insight to what I want to pursue in my life, and the firsthand exposure has taught me things I could never learn in a classroom or from a textbook. I've encountered quite a few people that have said "Wow, that's going to look great on your college apps!" -- and that reaction is disappointing, to say the least. The arduous college application process is turning many activities into competitions, taking much of the value out of them. No one should volunteer or intern because it looks good on paper, but should instead to have an opportunity to learn new things, explore interests, and to make a difference.

Making a difference is an invaluable experience that is an essential part of becoming successful. It is an incredible feeling knowing that I have the power to make a difference, even if it is one person at a time. As a student, making a difference is something that is virtually impossible to achieve in a classroom. I find myself sitting in a classroom, or doing homework, anxious to make a difference and explore what really matters to me. In America, the land of opportunity, is it all about the numbers? The increasing emphasis on grades and tests is disappointing, and potentially prevents ambitious and determined students from achieving their goals. More colleges should be placing stronger emphasis on extra-curricular activities, internships and volunteer work, and other non-standardized measures of achievement. A student is much more than a number.

Susan Zirinsky, an executive producer at CBS News, once told me something along the lines of "It's not all about grades, it's about the force of your personality, and your level of determination." Hearing words like that from an intelligent, accomplished individual was unfathomably encouraging. She may not have been the best student, but her tireless commitment to achieving great things and pursuing her passion has made her a well-known figure in broadcasting.

So I wonder, will I be able to achieve great things in my life? Will my grades hold me back? Will I get into a good college? Will my determination and passion for making a difference be enough? I know I am not the only one asking these questions. There are many other students just like me, who want to use their knowledge to help humanity rather than get an A on a test or a 2400 on their SATs. I'm working hard to portray myself as more than a grade, and I hope that other students, who are in the same position as I am, are working just as hard. I hope that eventually, we will all find our places in the world.