The idea of college is one of the most significant parts of my life. As senior year gets closer and closer, the challenge of college seems to loom on my mind more frequently. High school is your last four years of bliss before you enter the cutthroat college environment. I come from a community obsessed with college. In the public high school I could have gone to, everyone was taking 20 AP courses, creating non-profits, leading clubs, and focusing all their energy and time into being valedictorian and getting into a top-10 university. For my close family and friends, this narrative that college dictates your entire future and promise is incredibly prevalent. But, is the idea that college is the most important determinant accurate? 

In my personal experience, almost every course I take and extracurricular activity I do seems to be in some way related to college. With my parents constantly helping plan my high school life, I feel trapped along the route to “success.” For many of my friends, their plan was to try to do as much as they could in their four years of high school. Even freshman year I was thinking about how the rest of my highschool experience was going to be laid out. I ran for class representative, joined many clubs, and took the hardest courses I could. 

Yet, I could not find the time to enjoy high school.

Everything I did felt fake, like I was just taking advantage of these opportunities for my college applications. After realizing this, I started to constantly think about the authenticity of my choices. What is the purpose of joining cross country? Why am I doing Model UN? Do I even like math competitions? These are the questions I ask myself before I go to sleep.

Living life in preparation for college takes away from the enjoyment of learning and the opportunities for fun and relaxation. Time is everything. Every day you waste is a day you could have spent studying, prepping for a standardized test, applying for summer schools, or participating in other unique activities. Every day you could have earned more community service hours, built a non-profit organization, practiced an instrument or sport, or expanded your art portfolio. In the midst of all this chaos, it is extremely hard to stop, look around, and have fun. In a perfect world you would spend every single minute of your day doing something “productive,” but we are human, and far from perfect, and as such, need time to relax. 

This lack of time and pressure to constantly use it productively, particularly during the academic year, makes decision making hard for me. I find myself turning down opportunities to have fun with my friends so that I can work on academic assignments. I would love to go watch that movie with a friend, go on that weekend trip, and talk for an hour about freshman class drama (albeit, there is not a lot). Time engaging with people helps me relax. Additionally, sports are a great escape for me. Running for an hour really gives you clarity and focus. Playing a pickup game of basketball burns time faster than anything else. An hour that could have been spent doing greuling math problems suddenly becomes an (almost) carefree, competitive, and fun hour of basketball. Finding these moments where you can relax and just have fun is crucial. It helps you to get out of the mindset of doing activities only for college applications.

College affects everyone differently. As senior year gets closer, the pressure to perform becomes greater. At the end of the day, I am just starting my sophomore year. With college applications being so far away, and the SAT and other responsibilities still on the horizon, college is not affecting me as much as it could be. 

But this leads to the question, what does going to a good college really bring you? Better connections? Better education? Better quality of life? Better jobs? At the end of the day, college lasts for only a fraction of your life, so why do we care so much about it? Asking these questions are crucial. For me, I have learned to let the preemptive college stress go a bit. Applications still play such an important role in my decision making, but I try to make sure that I can do what I love: running, playing basketball, watching movies with my friends, helping build a better community, and learning about things that interest me. College does not control me, and maybe holding onto that idea is all that matters in this chaotic world of judgment.