Students should focus on high school, not college

Caroline Jacobs, In-Depth Editor, Public Relations Editor

From a young age, I’ve been mesmerized by the idea of getting into and attending college. While my middle school peers were playing Minecraft, I was on Youtube binge-watching videos of students filming their reactions as they opened college decisions. I was emotionally invested as Rory from Gilmore Girls made her choice between Harvard and Yale and as the Gossip Girls characters planned their lives after high school, all enrolling highly selective institutions. I spent hours looking at college rankings and descriptions, making a list of schools I wanted to go to before I even started high school.

This obsession only grew once I entered ETHS and began more seriously thinking about grades, extracurriculars, and “hooks” that would get me into the schools I hoped to attend. Throughout my four years of high school, I packed my schedule full, taking as many AP classes as I could and adding as many sports, clubs, and other commitments as humanly possible. 

My thoughts were consumed by college, my time spent excessively studying and worrying about my future. I would stay up for hours studying for a test, come to school sleep-deprived the next morning, and then reassure myself that this was just another sacrifice I needed to make to get into a “dream school.” I let my social life take the backseat to my academic life, justifying my moments of unhappiness by saying that it would be worth it once I got into college. 

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve loved my various involvements and classes I’ve participated in at ETHS. I genuinely enjoy coming to school, challenging myself in my classes and finding ways to integrate myself into the ETHS and Evanston community. In fact, there are very few changes I would make to my course schedule and activities if I went back to do it again. 

However, as I spend the last quarter of my senior year at home and as I slowly accept the fact that a normal fall semester at college is becoming increasingly unlikely, I’ve been able to see quite clearly the mistakes I’ve made as it pertains to college and my high school experience. I made high school about getting into college. As cliche as it sounds, I spent so much time focusing on the future that I sometimes forgot to appreciate moments as I was living them. While I wouldn’t say I have regrets, I wish fourteen-year-old me could hear the advice I now have to offer. Here is what I would say.

Trust that your hard work and intellect will get you the grades you want and just learn for the sake of getting an education. Keep working hard, but stop checking HAC five times a day and give yourself a break to do things you enjoy. 

Understand that the college decisions you receive will not create some seismic shift in your life. Don’t build up a single day or moment because whatever the outcome, and I’ve experienced both positive and negative outcomes, your life will go on just as it did before. 

I couldn’t be happier with the college I’m attending next year and yet the fulfilment and validation I thought I would get from being accepted into a “dream school” wasn’t there. Sure, it was a relief to be done with the process and it was great to be congratulated by my friends and peers, but I still felt the same because ultimately, not all that much had changed.

Stop letting college conversations consume so much of your headspace. Limit the college-related conversations at the dinner table and the gossip about who’s applying where and whether or not you think they’ll get in. The college acceptance process is not a complete meritocracy and to be honest, it can be really confusing. You don’t know who is going to get in where and so as fun as speculating may be, I hate to break it to you, but your speculations mean nothing. 

Appreciate the privilege that comes with applying to and attending college. It’s often easy to forget within our various bubbles that not everyone has the opportunity to spend thousands of dollars on applications and standardized testing, let alone on test prep or college counselors. Take a moment to step back and think about the absurd price tag that comes with a college education in this country. The average cost of a public in-state university is $10,116 a year and $36,801 a year for private institutions, with costs increasing each year. Consider the fact that while some of us have the time to pack our schedules full with extracurriculars, others are taking on demanding jobs to support their families or simply don’t have the resources to take advantage of the unpaid internships or activities I took for granted.

Perhaps most importantly, appreciate high school for what it is, and that it is not just a mechanism for getting into college. Take advantage of all that ETHS has to offer. Talk to the kid in your math class who you never thought you’d be friends with. Try a new club that seems totally out of your wheelhouse. 

The most memorable moments from my four years at ETHS are the ones spent with friends at hockey games and driving around late at night or the ones where I sat in class engaging in complex discussions that will forever shape me and learning about topics that genuinely interested me. Years from now, I won’t be thinking about my ACT score or the colleges I applied to but rather the people I met and the knowledge I gained during these four years. Don’t lose sight of those moments because that is what high school is about.