Enjoying the Ride in High School and College

So as a college senior, and a Life on the Hill blogger since mid-2010, I think it’s about time I start making some preachy and stereotypical senior revelations. Looking back on my years at Cornell, and life overall, one of the biggest things I wish I could have altered was my rather outcome-oriented mentality. At a largely pre-professional school like Cornell, many people are always focused on the next step–be it an internship, career, or grad school application. Of course, this mentality is existent in high schools as well, as students often enter high school with a plan to maximize their 4 years for favorable college decisions. To illustrate this, let me showcase two messages that prospective Cornell applicants have sent me in recent days:

The first one:

Hi David, I’m sure you have answered this question a ton of times, but I am a sophomore and Cornell is my dream school. I was just wondering what kind of things make you stand out when it comes to your application. Right now I have Varsity swim, debate, ASB, key club, and national honors society. I know it’s kind of early to be thinking about all of this but I’m mortified about being rejected from this school. You seem so knowledgeable and awesome to a sophomore like me! thanks hope you have time to respond. ps. how many B’s can you have? Sorry for the extremely general questions.

And another one:

Hi there! My friend and I came across your blog two days ago, and we love it! We both are freshmen in high school, and want to go to Cornell. We were just wondering, what extracurriculars did you participate in that you think were most noticed by the admissions officers? Thank you in advance! ~Class of 2021!

First off, thanks so much for the questions! I think it can be very beneficial that people are goal oriented, and I applaud any high school freshman or sophomore that already set his/her sights on Cornell. However, I think these two messages epitomize this incredibly outcome-oriented mentality, where people–myself included–tend to focus on supposed future benefits while neglecting the opportunities at their doorstep and enjoying life.

This is something I’ve surprisingly given a lot of thought to; I totally understand that there’s value in playing the college admissions game, but if you look at every step in your academic and professional career as preparing for the next step, you never get to truly enjoy the moment. So, my answer to the student’s “which high school extracurriculars to do” question is, well…those that interest you and that you’re passionate about! Don’t spend 4 years in high school, or college for that matter, doing activities just for an admissions officer or HR department to glance at years from now.

If you’re this concerned a decision that will be made in a few years, what’s going to happen if you get into Cornell? Will you be pre-med or pre-law, and devote another 4 years to tirelessly impressing a committee? Again, I’m not advocating slacking off, and I get that grades are important for these programs…I’m just saying to consider the decade or so of your life that becomes less enjoyable if you don’t live in the moment, and see everything as working towards an outcome. And yes, I’ve known premeds/prelaws since the start of college that have concerned themselves with every grade or extracurricular that they’ve taken on.

Here’s a personal example of this that sticks out to me–namely, I wish I studied less earlier in college. To set the scene: it’s freshman year, probably a Wednesday or Thursday, around 5:30pm in my residence hall, and 6-7 of my hallmates spontaneously decided to go to a fun restaurant downtown to celebrate someone’s birthday. When they approached me about attending, I remembered I had a French prelim the next day, so immediately said I couldn’t. I can think of a few other times where I declined, as well–for a math exam, a paper I had to do, etc. For some reason, these examples have stuck in my mind over the years as I’ve thought about what I’ve missed by declining these types of events. (And believe me, there are lots of people like this at Cornell–very academically focused, turning down events to study, joining clubs because it “looks good,” working on assignments until 4am, etc.)

So, friendly writers that sent me these questions…look, I get it. You gotta do the college admissions thing to get into competitive schools–maintaining great grades while participating in numerous clubs, sure. But having a mentality where you’re “mortified about being rejected from” Cornell only as a sophomore, or asking how many B’s you’re permitted to get in high school before rejection is guaranteed…I don’t think this is a fantastic idea. As kids say these days, you only live once (#YOLO). Plus, being a teenager can be fun, and  college is supposed to be some of the best years of your life…so I say enjoy it to an extent.

I wish I didn’t express reluctance in sledding down Libe Slope at 3am when I had classes early the next day, and wish I went to a few more of those fun events instead of endlessly studying. Granted, I’m not pre-med or pre-law, so as always…take my advice with a grain of salt.

By the way, I did end up getting a solid A in the French class that I studied for instead of attending dinner with hallmates freshman year. But would I have taken an A- or–gasp–a B if it meant a higher quality of life and enjoyment that freshman semester? Probably. It’s about balance, mes amis.

6 thoughts on “Enjoying the Ride in High School and College

  1. Joel

    Great blog. Very mature perspective David. I will share this with my kids – it’s all about balance – whether age 18, 38, 54 or beyond. I always enjoy reading your insights.

  2. Kiran Kaul

    This has been the best piece of advice I have ever gotten. Thank you as a high school senior who is just about to submit my application for Cornell.

  3. Kayla

    Amen to that. Why should you let a random group of people you’ve never met have any level of influence over your life? I’m a high school junior and it drives me absolutely insane how obsessed everyone is with meeting the expectations of this or that college. They are all completely missing the point. You are supposed to go to the college that best suits your needs, not change yourself and your needs to attend a college with a reputation.

  4. Pingback: Early Farewell, Senior Bloggers! | big REDefined

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