Does This GPA Make My Ivy League Application Look Fat? (College Post #2)

AP Bio: the bane of my existence.

AP Bio: the bane of my existence.

An A- isn’t an A, just like failure isn’t success. If you can’t push yourself to manage family, extracurricular activities, and academics, you need to reevaluate your sense of self-worth. If you can’t resist the temptation of that romance novel five feet away from you, you do not deserve dinner today. These are some of my thoughts from the past few years, and if you’re a high school student, I can guess one of yours: if I don’t get into a good college, then I’m not smart. I’m not successful. I’ve failed.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the idea of getting into college has some strong points. It pushes teens to enroll in harder courses, motivates them to join new clubs, and forces them out of their comfort zones. I admit to succumbing to the system; I most likely never would’ve taken AP Calculus or Honors Physics if not for the extra appeal they added to my transcript. But what happens when college consumes one’s mind? What happens when this extrinsic method of motivation takes over, leaving nothing except an empty head behind?

Anyone else reading this one? It's so difficult to resist!

Anyone else reading this one? It’s so difficult to resist!

There are two quantities that drive college applicants crazy: GPAs and SAT scores. Sure, a student striving to earn a good grade doesn’t sound that bad – until that same student says she wouldn’t mind a horrible teacher as long as that teacher would give her an easy A. Yes, spending a few hours a week studying for the SAT seems pretty harmless – until you run across the kid shelling over ridiculous amounts of money to take prep courses for a miniscule score boost. The worst part is when people assume these numbers are indications of intelligence or personal worth, even when they’re influenced by random factors or are just plain unnecessary.

Last year, I stood back and listened to the conversations my peers had over a 24-hour period. Unsurprisingly, as juniors, almost all we talked about was college – maybe it was just a bad day, but still. Why should the idea of college precede intellectual inquiry and the earnest exploration of learning as opposed to pushing it forward? Why are we letting the superficial standards of our education system tower over us, telling us what to do? Last year, before I published any of my blog posts, I literally contemplated whether college admissions officers would find me less attractive because of what I wrote. That didn’t stop me from posting about mostly-naked men, but you see my point.

It’s strange, because I’ve been waiting to write this post for several months, and yet I find myself at a loss of words. I guess what I’m trying to say is this: pursue your passion, and utilize learning as your primary source of academic motivation. It’s okay if your hobbies don’t include saving Nicaraguan children from hunger (though it’d be a nice thing to do) or if you get a few B’s or a C in the course of your high school career. Remember that black and white measurements of your ability cannot come even close to capturing the many shades of grey that make up who you are. No matter wherever you go – college or otherwise – your experience, or at least a large part of it, is what you make of it.

The rant I wrote last year I can finally recycle. Oh junior year, how I don't miss you...

The rant I wrote last year I can finally recycle. Oh junior year, how I don’t miss you…

In conclusion, two reasons I wrote this post: 1) it’s been a week since my last one, 2) I think I failed a calculus exam today and in the middle of it realized I did not care. And not caring about academics does not fit my standards. Then I thought, hey, I should write that college post I’ve been meaning to write, but it didn’t come across as clearly or concisely as I wanted it to, and… yeah, you get the point. Hopefully this was somewhat entertaining because I’m super passionate about college admissions and how high schoolers push themselves way too hard to gain admission to select colleges. Overall, there are tons of qualified applicants and not enough spots, it’s all about learning for learning’s sake, if I can get into an Ivy without knowing that lettuce isn’t a flower so should other people, etc. Anyway I have a few major exams coming up in the first weeks of May so until then my posts may be more sporadic. I apologize in advance and I hope everyone is well and safe!

Also, please comment if you have any suggestions on how to ameliorate the college admissions conundrum, or if you disagree with anything I’ve written here. I’d love to obtain new insight regarding this issue even if I can’t respond right away!

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28 Comments

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28 responses to “Does This GPA Make My Ivy League Application Look Fat? (College Post #2)

  1. Legitimately, the only reason I took Calculus was because I knew my colleges preferred it. And then I piled AP Physics on to that. Now, I didn’t apply to any Ivy Leagues, I just didn’t think it was smart to waste my time with schools I had 0% chance getting into, but I definitely know that pressure. I can calculate my GPA (weighted or unweighted) in my head, without a calculator. And I am HORRENDOUS at math, like really really awful. I’m hardly scraping by in Calc and I don’t mean in the A- way…but I’ve learned to calculate GPA without thinking, to figure out necessary test averages, necessary homework assignments, but none of this at all is remotely tied to my intelligence–rather, my ability to work the system. If there is one thing I wish I could tell my past self, it is that I am more than a number on a scale, whether that’s a grading scale, a weight scale, or any other variation.

    • Oh, jeez, AP Physics… I wouldn’t even be able to scrape by in that class, and I don’t mean in the A- way either. I’m sorry that you’ve dedicated so much of your mental space to things like calculating your GPA without a calculator – though I suppose it’s worked out for you if you look at it in a positive light. Either way, I’m glad that you’re aware that you’re more than a number, no matter what number that may be.

  2. Blythe Megan

    Hey, Thomas! :)
    I recently enrolled in IU (decision made, woo!) and am facing 15 exams for my month of May, and I haven’t really the motivation any longer. Most people would blame this on my afore mentioned enrollment, but I know myself better, and if I’m being completely honest: I’m just worn out. Four years at a top 10 ranked most difficult high school in the US and I just feel run down, and lately just plain mediocre as my friends are receiving some hefty scholarships (while I did myself receive some, I did not receive those that pay the entire tuition, which is a bummer since I’m broke as hell). I was wondering if you had any advice for someone feeling tired, financially stressed, and not very special at all.

    Meg.

    • Hey Megan! Congratulations on IU – that’s a huge achievement and you should feel super special for committing to such a great school. I think it’s okay to be tired, or worn out, but keep in mind that the stress you feel regarding your upcoming exams will pass in a couple of months or so. I’m sorry you didn’t receive much in terms of scholarship money, but as trite as this sounds, some is better than none – could you perhaps get a summer job or do work study or take out loans to compensate for the financial blows you may incur? Even though college is a money-drainer it pays off in the end; in my opinion, there will always be a way for pay for it, even if it requires hard work. As for feeling special, when is the last time you’ve taken a break to do something you truly enjoy? Maybe, and this is just a guess, you’ve spent so much time worrying about the future and comparing yourself to your classmates that you’ve put your interests on the back shelf, when they should be at the forefront. You’re about to go to college, your hard work has paid off, you have a more than capable head on your shoulders! While this may not alleviate the anxiety you feel at this moment, I’m confident that college will present you with a plethora of opportunities to expand and explore – it’ll come soon, I promise.

  3. My opinion: sometimes success is knowing when not to give a shit.
    I know people in my school that applied to tons of high end schools that did not get in because they spent all of their time on academics and trying hard. Anyone can try hard and take hard classes that, when properly studied for, yield great grades. Anyone can study for a test like the SAT and do well if they actually do study.

    Okay, not *anyone*, but many more people than we are ever aware of. Trying hard says that you are intelligent and determined, but it also says that you have a limited focus. It sounds so lame, but even though I do well in school, my grades and class ranking are no longer top 1% (they’re like top 5% or top 3% or some other random number) because I started focusing on things I had a passion for versus things that I felt I had to do well in.

    And that’s how I got into college. Hell, I got into a college that required subject tests when I didn’t even take them. Essays and activities – personalities – are what matter anymore, and you don’t work at a personality. You live, and it is developed. I hope that your choice of college will give you the opportunity to cool it a bit with your academic worries and focus more on living – because living is what makes someone that changes the world, not knowing factual information. That failed calc test may not be good for your grade, but it’s effing wonderful for you as a person. I stand by that statement.

    P.S. You owe me an email whenever you break from your testing frenzy. It comes with a free blanket, warm coco, and two Asprins for the post-studying headache.

    • I think you’re right when it comes to pursuing your passions as opposed to what society puts out there for you. It’s great that you got into that school without taking subject tests, and I can tell that you do what you what to do – and you do it all well! I’m hoping my college choice will suit me too, but who doesn’t wish that? Numbers never reveal the full picture, which is perhaps why qualitative data can be much more helpful than quantitative data.

      PS: I’ll email you asap, I promise! Just so busy lately. We have much to discuss.

  4. I’m really proud of you for not caring, and I mean that in a seriously not sarcastic way. You are perfect! You’ve been working above and beyond these for years — more like your entire life — and there are some days when you need to not care.
    Before, I was literally tearing the skin off my flesh with stress. I found out that relaxing, accepting that I am good enough and that I don’t need to stress out every minute of every day for perfection, and going to my limit and no more is good enough.
    Unlike you I do not have a way with words, and this reply sounds really apathetic, but I hope you know what I’m getting at here.
    Just chill a little! And hmu when you need a break <3

    • Thanks so much! Yeah, as a perfectionist it can be hard to pull myself away from achieving 100% all the time, but it’s necessary to do so. You don’t sound apathetic at all, more like you’ve achieved a healthy balance. We will chill before heading off to college, thanks for reading and commenting!

  5. I think you also have to take yourself into account holistically when thinking about colleges. I have stellar english/french/history grades, but I got a C+ in Chem Adv. and only managed to scrape away an A- once in my adv math track courses throughout all of high school, and yet I’m going to Georgetown.
    Many people forget that ECs are a bulk of the application, and especially at the top end schools, at the end of the day, it’s who you are that you convey through your ECs and essays that will get you selected out of a pool of incredibly talented people rather than just a perfect score on the SATs.
    I don’t know, maybe I’m just content because I know where I’m going, but I think I made it through pretty unscathed. I may be in the minority, though.

    • I agree that a lot of the best schools review their applicants holistically – sure, a decent GPA and a solid SAT score are necessary, but after that (and in some cases before) a well-rounded and unique set of ECs is what makes or breaks you. Congratulations on Georgetown, and I’m glad that your college admissions process worked out so well!

  6. How do you see your life unfolding? For me, once I got to college and realized how vast this universe is, how super competitive everyone is, and how long my life could possible run, I decided the best thing for me was to figure out how to make a living for the rest of my life doing something that I truly loved to do, that would also benefit others besides myself. If this required a college, a university, a trade school, an apprenticeship, or simply teaching myself, or whatever, then that’s how I set sail, so to speak. That’s exactly what I did. In the end, although things (of course) didn’t always go as planned, I’m 70 now and most satisfied with the results of my decision back in the early 60s. I hope I made some sense and maybe gave you another perspective/point of view to take a peak at…

    • Hm, intriguing – college isn’t the answer for everyone, I ascertain. It’s great that you took your unique route and succeeded; it shows that no matter what direction you take, even if it’s one society doesn’t always approve of, you can make it in the end. You definitely made more than “some sense”, thank you for reading and commenting!

      • About this issue, I’ve tried to instill in my 2 fantastic sons, while they were in high school and college to not, if at all possible, ever pick their career/life path by default….which is what I’ve seen most people do. Sorry, just had to say that. Appreciate your patience with me.

        • You don’t need to apologize, it’s superb that you’ve instilled those values in your sons! I’m sure they’ve benefited from it fantastically and from having you as a father in general.

  7. Alyssa

    Not caring is the best feeling because it’s not really a feeling, is it? Would apathy be considered a feeling since it’s the lack of emotions? (Also side note: good book choice ^-^) But anyways, there were definitely times during high school when, to put it bluntly, I did not give a crap about my grades and had little to no motivation to study or do work. Part of the time, I only studied/attempted to work hard was to get my parents off my back since the annoyance from dealing with schoolwork was way less than the annoyance from dealing with them. From my experience, it seems like colleges outweigh grades more than extracurriculars. For example, University of Georgia (UGA) automatically accepts the valedictorians and salutatorians from my high school, so that’s purely grade based, and UGA’s “Early Action” application looks solely at grades and SAT scores and doesn’t require an essay or anything. Also, my extracurriculars were subpar: I only joined one club in high school (for two years) that volunteered at elementary schools, and then I volunteered at a hospital for one summer. That was basically it – no sports, no club officer positions, no special/selective summer programs. However, my grades were mostly good since my school didn’t have the +/- system so by the time I applied to college, I had 2 B’s and the rest were A’s (although if my school did do the whole +/- thing my GPA would probably be considerably lower), and I still somehow managed to get into a good college with only those grades and decent SAT scores. Even though many colleges require essays so they can “get to know you as a person,” I feel like it’s not enough to account for brilliant, hardworking people who may not test well in certain areas or to screen for people who will actually “make a positive contribution to the campus environment” and blah blah blah, but of course, it’s not feasible for admissions officers to actually get to know someone.

    And now I just feel like I’m rambling/I have no idea what I’m talking about anymore. Anyways, you definitely need a break from all that stress. I vote for going to Build-a-Bear Workshop and making a new best friend. Wow, actually, just ignore me. It’s late, I’m tired, and my brain clearly is functioning at its finest…although to be honest, me at full brain capacity probably isn’t that much different.

    Good luck with your exams!! And don’t stress out too much. Bring out your inner rebel that just doesn’t give a crap about school.

    • Ha ha I’ll take the Build-a-Bear workshop into consideration Alyssa! I agree that admissions officers have a tough task in determining who to admit to their colleges with such a small amount of information – I guess they just have to do the best with what they have. Your comment shows that there are many ways one can proceed through high school and still get into a good college; I’m sure you’re playing yourself down a bit but irrespective we are who we are no matter what numbers may imply.

      Don’t worry, I love it when people ramble on this blog (not saying that you are, but feel free to.) I’ll do my best to do my best without stressing too much, thank you for stopping by!

  8. That was exactly what I did until I became a junior. I guess at this point I realized it didn’t really matter because if I didn’t enjoy what I was doing, no matter how hard I tried, I wouldn’t do well and even though I initially picked things that would challenge me more, I realized that sometimes the comfort zone is better because otherwise you just become a mess trying to manage everything and retaining your sanity.
    (p.s. good luck with Clockwork Princess!! :D I read it a while ago)

    • Yes, it’s better to pursue what you genuinely enjoy than what other people prescribe to you! I saw your Goodreads comment – sorry for the semantics error, I didn’t mean to say that you didn’t care about school at all. Rather, like you said, you realized what’s important to you… which is a huge step that many people don’t figure out until college or adulthood.

      Anyway, thanks! I can’t wait to dive back into it. I’m about 100 pages in but I have to pause and read another book for my school’s book club.

      • It’s alright :) I still need to figure out what I want for college though but now I feel all mature.
        A BOOK CLUB? You’re lucky. No one in my class reads and people in my school hardly use the library so no book clubs here. But you’ll have fun with the book :)

        • Not many people at my school read either, but I guess I should feel lucky that there are enough people to form a club and keep it running. But, I guess that’s what the internet is for! Thanks, I can’t to get back to it…

  9. vishalbheeroo

    It’s a tragedy with our education system where too much credibility is being given to marks and college admissions. High marks is no indication how well one will fare in real life.i have seen toppers screwing up big time. I prefer creative people over academicians..cases–Bill Gates and Dhirubhai Ambani:)
    Cheers
    Vishal
    http://www.vishalbheeroo.wordpress.com

    • WordsFallFromMyEyes

      YES, no indication how you will fare in real life. But still, massively impressive. The human mind is awesome – can stretch in all directions, creative etc etc.

      • I agree with both comments, marks and college admissions are not the most important nouns in life, and it is wonderful how much potential the human mind has. Thank you both for reading and commenting!

  10. WordsFallFromMyEyes

    OMG, I am overwhelmingly impressed. Excellent, excellent results. Kudos to you. I don’t have a mind like that. I thoroughly admire you. Looks great, not fat. :)

  11. While academics and SAT are one of the main things that colleges look at for admissions, it is thankfully not the only thing. Everyone is stressed out about getting into a good school (me included) and even though I went to a in-state school vs an Ivy League, I know I got a great education and got the most of my chosen field. So work hard, but also take time to relax. I think you are a brilliant young man from the posts I have seen so far and if they’re not taking you for writing ability as well as an A- average, then that is their loss! I haven’t yet read “Clockwork Princess” but it is waiting for me at the library, so I’m excited to read it.

    • Aw, thank you for your kind words Rachel. It’s reassuring to know that you acquired a quality education at your in-state school, though it’s not that surprising either. I hope you enjoy Clockwork Princess, it’s pretty pulchritudinous thus far!

  12. Thomas,
    I’m in an interesting position here, having never actually felt the academic push…I was homeschooled, and while I do attend a good university, my good-but-not-through-the-roof ACT score got me in easily. However, I would warn you not to worry so much about the academics. What is important is learning and experience. Common sense and logic will get you farther than a 4.0 any day. I can’t imagine how miserable it is to be where you are in high school and only focused on college and grades…get out and live a little. Take some time to read the book! :)

    • You’re right, while academics are important, they should serve the higher purpose of ameliorating learning and experience! Those who are absolutely entrenched in nothing but studying do not possess enlightened lives. Thank you for reading and commenting.

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