05/01/2012 09:08 am ET Updated Jul 01, 2012

The Light at the End of the College Admissions Tunnel

Something has been really bugging me the whole year. It's nothing unique to me -- in fact, every kid my age goes through it in roughly the same way. In fact, the main reason I'm writing about it is because it's so present in so many kids' lives that someone needs to draw attention to it. It is a modern horror that I have just dipped my toes into: THE COLLEGE ADMISSIONS PROCESS.

While I may write about applications in the future, this post will deal with something a little bit different. You see, at my school -- a rigorous, prestigious college prep school -- for most of our time we are showered with praise by the administration and teachers. "You kids are the best of the best," some might say. "I expect a lot from your strong minds," a demanding teacher might preach. And I'm fine with that. I actually prefer that sort of reinforcement in my work. In addition to that, whenever I have a jazz concert, I get a letter from the head of the Upper School congratulating me on the great job I did and how I have contributed to our community. This "cream of the crop" attitude not only makes the students feel truly valued when they accomplish something worth recognition, but it also inspires each student to go above and beyond what is expected. However, it's the way the school has talked to us during our class meetings this year that have turned the issue on its head.

In 11th grade at my school, we begin having meetings about the college process. We look at sample transcripts, acceptance history graphs and case study applications. And yet, I leave every single one of these meetings with an overwhelming sense of dread. Our deans say that they need to act as "reality checks" for us, to prevent us from applying to unrealistic colleges. However, as much as I love my dean, I have found myself wondering if my extracurriculars are "centered" enough for me to get into a good school. I worry when my GPA doesn't go up. Admissions graphs make me feel worthless when someone with the same GPA and SAT scores didn't get into a school that I like.

Yes, I know that those are just numbers and statistics, but it's still disheartening. It feels as though I've been built up during my high school years to think that I could go anywhere, do anything, and be anyone. This year, it feels like that whole pedestal has been pulled out from under me, and it sucks.

As I compile my college list and the year draws to an end, my parents are disappointed that I didn't dream big enough, and I'm beginning to wonder the same thing. In our preliminary college list, I included hardly any universities that I would have trouble getting admitted into. "That list is not the list of schools you're applying to," my dad says. "It's the list of school that interest you and the schools you want to consider, not just schools you know you can get into."

While being in touch with reality and limitations are important, every class meeting is a major blow to my self-esteem in every respect. We know that hardly any of us will find ourselves accepted by any of the Ivy League schools or Stanford, but making us feel that we won't get in anywhere certainly won't help us in the long run. Stanford University has a seven percent acceptance rate -- a tie for the lowest in the nation. Everyone who wants to attend the school and does not apply has a zero percent chance of getting accepted. Obviously, this applies to every other school, but it also applies to life. If you never put yourself out there, you will never find success. I almost feel afraid to take the risk, though, and I know many who feel the same.

So I'd like to end this article with some encouragement for kids going through the same thing as me. Here are a few statistics that might relieve you:

  • Kansas State University accepts 98 percent of its applicants, and has strong technical academic programs and is a Division I school.
  • California State University at Monterey Bay has an 81 percent acceptance rate, and is smack in the middle of one of the most beautiful places on earth.
  • Auburn University accepts 79 percent of its applicants, has one of the friendliest atmospheres and some of the most school spirit of any school in the country.
  • Approximately 49.6 million kids attend college each year. That's the largest population attending higher education in United States history.
Earlier this year, I had the privilege of hearing Scott Abbott, the Assistant Vice President for Undergraduate Admissions at New York University, speak. He talked about disappointment and success, but what I truly took from the meeting was when he said: "You will love your fourth choice school. I know that I did." That let me know that there was a light at the end of this tunnel.

If that doesn't make you feel any better, I don't know what will.