Summer break is already about halfway over, and for a lot of high school students, that means the pressure is already back on. You’ve got summer reading to do, math practice to finish, tutoring sessions and extracurriculars to sign up for before they’re full.
It’s all overwhelming enough without knowing that colleges are getting pickier every year. If you’re aiming for a top school, you’ve probably gotten the impression that you need a schedule full of AP classes, a 4.2 GPA and flawless SAT and ACT scores to stand a snowball’s chance, and in some ways, you’d be right. Ivy League universities and other schools of that caliber can afford to expect perfection, and some students thrive when they’re striving for that perfection. That’s all well and good–our society needs its academic juggernauts. But not everybody is built for that kind of rigor, and if you’re not, it can be easy to feel like your competition is leaving you in the dust.
I know how bad that feels, because that was me in my junior year of high school circa 2013-14. I wanted to get into my state’s “public Ivy” more than just about anything. I was a good student who loved to write and draw, but I was also pretty bad at math and could never seem to finish all my homework. It would be years before I was finally diagnosed with severe ADHD, so nobody could figure out why school was such a brutal uphill battle for me. I was no slacker; I signed up for tough classes, played in marching band, and spent hours every week with tutors to get the scintillating (there’s an SAT word) academic record that would get me wherever I wanted to go—and it all sent my mental health down the drain. After completely burning myself out, I finally figured out that I could keep trying to be “perfect,” or I could stay sane. I opted for the latter. I traded marching band for theater, settled for passing Algebra 1 instead of acing it, had to take the SAT three times and earned a couple of detentions for flouting (there’s another one!) the dress code.
All this is to say, by spring of my senior year, I was pretty far from perfect, but I got my acceptance letter anyway. I had given up perfection to chase passion, and it paid off. In fact, I think I came out of it more confident and resilient than if I had played it safe, and that went on to serve me well in college, because life after high school is about so much more than a GPA or test scores.
So if you’re staring down the barrel of the new school year right now, keep your head up and don’t be scared to make some mistakes. At the risk of sounding corny, there are a million straight-A students out there, but there’s only one you. There are way more important things to be than “perfect,” like “graduated,” “happy,” and “you.”