Greetings from India 😀
Hi! I’m Ishita, and like the other people on this blog, I’m a part of the Stanford class of 2016. If you’re reading this, you’re probably going to apply to college soon. To all of you already getting stressed out, I am extending a great big virtual hug to you, because I was like you this time last year – and to all of you as cool as a cucumber about the next few months, here’s a high five! 🙂
Before continuing, I guess I’ll introduce myself more fully. My name Ishita (for a long time I had to use anagrams of my name on online forms because it always got censored). I grew up between St. Paul, Minnesota and Mumbai, India although I did high school at a private school in Mumbai.
I’m also going to tell you that I’m Hindu (although I’m far from religious). Why is that even relevant? Well, I may have my qualms with religion, but there was one part of one Hindu text that really, really hit close to home during the last year – my last year in school, my last year at home, and my last year in India. It comes from the Bhagwad Gita, an epic poem that details the conversation between the god Krishna and a prince who is confronted, on the battlefield, with fighting his own cousins in a bloody war of succession. In one couplet, Krishna tells the prince Arjuna, “You are entitled to your actions, but not to the fruit. Don’t act for the fruit of the action, but for the action itself.” I think Krishna’s advice was the best advice anyone could have ever given me last year.
On the Battlefield of College Applications
In high school, especially senior year, it’s easy to let college hype consume you (or such was my experience). It’s easy to fall into the diction of SAT score, GPA, volunteering hours, and the number of debate medals or leadership positions you have. Activities that took hours of your life turn into nothing more than one-line trophies on your resume, and everyone’s proud of you for it.
For me, that kind of atmosphere was very frightening. I loved learning, which put me a little on the “nerd” spectrum, but I wasn’t in the top 10% of my class, let alone 5%. I had in the 600s on one of my SAT sections (I know, blasphemy!). I had a total of two Model UN awards, and no other non-academic awards. On paper, then, I felt like I was worth shit. It was disheartening, because I kept thinking I was fated to a life of mediocrity.
So back in October when I was trying to figure out what to put on my EC list on the CommonApp, I realized I didn’t exactly have a pageload of CollegeConfidential-worthy creds to my name. I remember this very clearly since I was so mad at myself. “What did you do this whole year, Ishita?” I asked myself. “What did you spend your time doing? What happened in your life in the last 8,760 hours? Where were you?” I wasn’t a vegetable. I had to have been doing something. As I thought about it, I realized I did a lot of things: I baked pies. I painted and drew – a lot. I made a stage decorations for a play. I always wrote my English homework twice so that the version I turned in was neat and pretty. I made a handbook for our Model UN Press team. I talked to my sister. I got pretty good at Photoshop. I meticulously edited my AP essays until it was 2 AM and I was sobbing, battling against the merciless blows of life and all it had to offer.
And guess what? I liked doing those things. I wouldn’t have given them up for anything. These were the things I did that followed Krishna’s advice: I did them not to win an award or a line on my resume, but because I wanted to do them. There was no success to be had – and even if there was, I didn’t care. I did them anyways. Every time I baked or painted, I felt so much more alive than I did when I studied for my chemistry exam or that one dreadful time I decided to debate. (Krishna might say that with my eyes off the prize, I could focus on the task at hand, like he said later to Arjuna.) So yeah, I put those things down in my resume. I was met with skeptical looks on more than one occasion (“What? You’re putting that poster you made on your resume? Next to the invitation to shadow the Times of India authors? What?” Truth is, shadowing journalists was a one day thing. That poster took a month of my life).
I guess it was a risky time to be deciding on a life philosophy, but I was just so tired. Tired of trying to get A pluses, tired of trying to win, and tired of looking for things to put on my resume. School and apps were killing me, and my mental exhaustion was turning to physical sickness. Thinking about, and acknowledging, the things I loved to do was refreshing, so I went the Gita way and never looked back (well I submitted my app 12 minutes before the EA deadline, so I couldn’t have anyway).
And Finally, Fending for Your Sanity
My point is, the adcoms could probably fill a class with kids with the perfect resume, but they don’t. So if that’s not you, why try? Do the things you want to do, and do them because you want to do them. Focus on the action, and not the prize, and you won’t be disappointed when you realize you haven’t won, or that the prize is fleeting. You won’t lose any of that oft-mentioned “passion”. And before you get lost in the storm of applications, take a step back and think about the times you tried – not won or lost, but really, really tried, with all your heart.
My advice, and Krishna’s, isn’t really about how to get into Stanford or wherever else I got in, and I’m sorry if you were looking for that. I’m just trying to help you survive the last year of high school and make something special out of it. If you don’t do crap you never wanted to do anyway, you’ll get a year of your life back! (And trust me, it’s worth it. I don’t look back in joy at the time I killed myself memorizing chemistry for a B, but the time I gave up at a reasonable point and did something more fun instead. I was only a few points for the worse!)
But in my opinion (and this is completely my opinion) schools like Stanford value creativity and intellectual vitality in your passions. The first step to showing them that you are like that too is to well, follow your passions – do what you love!