11/19/2012 09:18 am ET Updated Jan 19, 2013

Guiding Fate

This is part of our monthly series 'Mission: Accepted,' in partnership with Minds Matter, which chronicles the lives of four students as they apply for college in their senior year.

I constantly daydream about being in college: a new environment, cultural diversity and freedom! Then I'm awakened by reality and remind myself that I have to complete my applications first.

I have been preparing for college all through high school; I've worked diligently to earn good grades, I've stayed up late studying for the SAT, I have done everything to make sure I am the best student and person I can be. But what if my efforts just aren't good enough? What if I am not good enough? Those are thoughts that constantly go through my mind. Like many other high school seniors, even thinking about the application process makes me nervous, and now that the time to apply is finally here, I feel like a deer in headlights. Where do I start?!

I began to write down schools that I had heard good things about and that my teachers and classmates had recommended to me, like Northwestern, Georgetown and UC Berkeley. I had my heart set on many of these schools because they are highly ranked and well-known. But this was the only factor I had been considering. Thankfully, my Minds Matter mentors encouraged (more like forced) me to explore what I really want in a school: small class sizes, extracurricular activities I'm interested in, and a variety of good majors (since I am not exactly sure yet what I want to pursue). Their advice was right, as usual, and I was able to cross three schools off my list: UC Riverside and UC Irvine, where the undergraduate population is too large, and Tufts, because it does not have one of my desired majors, public policy. It's amazing to think I could have gone to a school for the wrong reasons and been miserable there! Now I have 14 amazing schools that I would -- for the most part -- be happy to attend. Hopefully I'll get into my top school, which seems to change monthly; this month, it's Duke University.

I decided that if I am going to make this an effective application process, I have to start early, stop procrastinating, and face the source of my anxiety by actually looking at the supplemental questions for all my schools and beginning my applications, even if it means biting off the fingernails it took me the whole summer to grow. The most challenging stage of the process for me so far has been the personal statement, which I started working on about three weeks ago. Deciding what aspects of my life are the most significant and effectively describing them in under 500 words is not as easy as I thought it would be. I wrote a whole draft and realized a week later that I was completely unhappy with it.

The personal statement can make or break an application, so I went back and wrote down an extensive list of ideas, then locked myself in my room and activated my "stay focused" mode to keep myself away from all social-networking sites. I usually turn to Facebook and YouTube when I run out of ideas or can't find the right words. Well, not this time. It took me awhile to get my personal statement off the ground, but it got off, and it flew! I think knowing who you are and why you are that way is the key to writing a great personal statement. That's what I did. I took time to reflect on the person I am today and the significant aspects of my life (my family, my community, and the adversity I've overcome) that have shaped me, and the rest came naturally.

I've had several conversations with my mentors about my college applications; many of these talks begin with me telling them how nervous I am and how "I just can't." But they always remind me of how hard I have worked for three years, how far I have come, and that I "absolutely can." I realize that all I can do is put my best foot forward and know that I have done my best, even if I receive a rejection letter. The next four months will be intense and rigorous, but I am ready for it. I am excited to see where this journey takes me. I cannot know my fate, but I can definitely guide it. Hopefully my nails will grow back soon after.