It’s All About You

The Common App has just gone live and for many, the reality of the college application process has finally struck. Everywhere, high school seniors are facing the seemingly endless process of writing essays, collecting letters of recommendation, and sending out SAT scores, and it all starts with the opening of that one application.

This period of my life is one I’m not entirely inclined to relive. For me, this was a time of stress, uncertainty, and utter, utter confusion. However, after forcing myself to look back on it, in the hopes that my past experiences can help to inform those of the future, I’ve found myself wondering how much of that worry was even warranted.

The fall of my senior year comes back to me as a series of unappealing snapshots characterized by anxiety and stress. There’s me, hunched over my computer, spending what was easily a good twenty minutes deciding which word to use in a single sentence in a college essay. There’s me again, biting my nails as I tried to figure out which teachers I would ask to write my letters of recommendation. I see me, losing sleep over my senior classes, and whether I should take a class I hated at the AP level, simply because it would add “rigor” to my schedule. Not a fun time.

But did it have to be this way? When I dig to the root of all that anxiety, I find it all comes down to me, trying to live up to a set of standards I imagined an admissions had lined up. When I labored over a single word in an essay, I was so indecisive, and so concerned, because I was focused on what would most appeal to an admissions officer. Should I say “hardworking” to describe myself, or would the word “industrious” sound more impressive? When I went about asking teachers for recommendation letters, I was operating under the mentality of what would look most attractive on a college application. True, my journalism teacher knew me quite well after working with me on the school newspaper, but wouldn’t it be much more noteworthy if the letter was written by my APUS History teacher? I forced myself to consider the intimidating prospect of taking an extremely challenging class that I wouldn’t enjoy, simply because it might make a better impression.

I fretted and induced headaches and bit my nails till they bled, and all because I was trying to create an altered identity for the sake of a college application. An identity that was based on my limited perception of what I thought an admissions officer might want.

It didn’t have to be this way. For the majority of this process, I took on the impossible task of trying to read a college admissions officer’s mind, when I could have taken on the much more feasible, much more practical, and much less stressful task of simply reading my own.

I could have decided on the word that best described me, not one an imaginary reader thought sounded best. I could have gone straight to the teacher that I had the best relationship with for my rec letter. I could have immediately decided to pour myself into the classes I relished; instead of overextending myself in classes I didn’t like anyway. I could have made all these decisions based on what would really portray who I was, as a student and as a person, and not based on this edited and adjusted person I wanted to appear on my applications.

As it happens, that’s all an admissions officer wants to see. They want to know you. They want to know who you are, and why you are the way you are, and how learning how to ride a bike had a lasting impact on you as a student, and the teachers who inspired you, and the math problems that didn’t, and who you want to be in the future, and how you plan on getting there. They want to know all those aspects of yourself that you’re probably already aware of, you might just need to do a little digging to get to know them, and then communicate them on an application. This is a much more attainable and enjoyable task than trying to make yourself into something you’re not, and then get it on paper.

That is all a college application is trying to do. The test scores, the essays, the letters of recommendation, these are not obstacles meant to make you squirm and stress, they are opportunities for you to allow a college to get to know you. Not the you you think an admissions officer wants to see, but what is truly, genuinely, sincerely, you.

What looks good on an application is a student who knows who they are, and likes that person, and is going to continue being that person the best way they know how. It is the student who has actively pursued their personal passions, who has done what they’ve enjoyed, who has excelled in the classes they like and still given their best effort in the classes they didn’t, and who has communicated all that through the combination of test scores, and GPA’s and resumes that is the college application. If you do a little self-examining, you’ll probably find that that student, is you.

So instead of spending all this time and energy trying to discover what an admissions officer wants, use this as an opportunity to discover yourself. Most likely you’ll be pretty pleased with what you find. What’s more, I’m willing to bet that there is a college out there who will be equally pleased at the prospect of having you as a student.

~Victoria, Class of 2016

Which Came First: The Passion or the Job?

You sit in front of your computer screen and scroll through a column of white boxes with an academic discipline listed next to each one, from Accounting to Women’s Studies. Then, quickly and unceremoniously, you make a decision that, in theory, is supposed to define the rest of your life.

To this day, it still boggles my mind that as a rising freshman in college, this is how we are asked to select a major. It is a significant decision, monumental even, and yet it’s condensed into the checking of a box.

When I got to this step of college preparation the situation seemed hardly significant. It was like being asked what your favorite subject in school was, so I responded to the question in the same manner. With minimal thought and virtually no discussion, I scrolled through and decided what to click based on which major sounded most appealing. I saw “English,” decided I liked books and I liked to write, and without any further deliberation, clicked the corresponding square. I didn’t fully grasp I had just charted my academic path at UD.

            When I actually set foot on campus I began to wonder if I had gone about that the wrong way. When my fellow students discussed their major they weren’t discussing what they enjoyed, they were talking about what would best set them up for a career. Degree-related conversations praised practicality and glossed over actual interest. A peer asked me -not entirely sarcastically- if I planned on living in a cardboard box after I told him the major I came in with. It seemed in picking my area of study based on what I truly liked, I had made a serious mistake.

            But wait- aren’t you supposed to take classes that interest you? Aren’t you, as student, supposed to pursue what inspires you? Isn’t that what college is all about? Shouldn’t your profession be the product of passion instead of the other way around? Suddenly I wasn’t so sure. And because I didn’t have a clearly defined career path laid out before me -the way so many of my colleagues did- my future that had once appeared brimming with possibilities now looked entirely bleak.  

            However, I stuck with my decision for a while longer. I couldn’t help myself. The homework I was assigned in my major-specific courses I probably would have done on my own free time. I was emotionally invested in the discussions we had in class. I was passionate, truly passionate, about the material, so I continued to pour myself into my studies.

Then, something interesting occurred, and continued to occur. Opportunities started falling into my lap. I was offered a position editing the Honors Program Blog. I got a research gig that was directly correlated to my interests. I became a tutor in the University Writing Center. My resume was steadily being strengthened and when I interviewed for positions I found I possessed skills employers valued and needed.

            As it happened, I wasn’t destined for a life in a cardboard box. On the contrary, it seemed my future was actually fairly promising.  But this isn’t about some accomplishment I made; this is me saying you don’t have to fit yourself into some ill-fitting, career-perfect mold to accomplish things at all. You don’t have to squeeze into that tiny square on the computer screen you clicked when you selected your major. What you can do instead is pursue your passions, and it is amazing to see where this can lead you.

            What lies ahead of me is not pre-defined and it’s not entirely clear, but I now find this exciting rather than intimidating. Just because it’s not already mapped out based on a decision I made as a rising freshman, it doesn’t mean it’s not full of opportunities and possibilities and prospects. As I continue to pursue my passions, things continue to fall into place. I encourage anyone who will listen to do the same.

             Bottom line: do what you love. Everything else will follow.   

~Victoria, Class of 2016

The Juggling Act

At the University of Delaware, you can’t go a day without being somehow encouraged to take part in a fundraiser, join a club, or apply for some position. UD is a mecca for student organizations, from residence life to Greek life, from honors societies to registered student organizations (RSOs), from community service to student government to cultural clubs to campus publications. They are opportunities to explore  interests, meet people, and get plugged in on campus, and they are everywhere.

When I first set foot on campus I was absolutely exhilarated by this. My first student activities night consisted of me bounding from booth to booth and putting my name down for anything that sparked my interest- even the slightest bit. Brazilian jiu-jitsu? I’m there. UD Scuba? Sign me up. Every event I got emailed about got penciled into my calendar. Every flyer I got handed was secured to my refrigerator with a magnet. I wanted to try it all. You don’t want to pass up opportunities, right? And who says I don’t have a knack for swing dancing?

Unfortunately, it soon became clear that this eccentric lifestyle could not last. Duties began falling through the cracks and my time spent sleeping began to dwindle. No matter how hard I tried, I simply could not do it all.  I was forced to give some of these activities up, feeling a sense of defeat rather than relief. I felt that I was not making the most of my college experience.

As a college student, there’s a subtle, or perhaps not so subtle pressure to take advantage of every opportunity you encounter. At a campus full of go-getters and do-it-all-ers, “Get involved” could very well be the unofficial mantra. Each involvement opportunity is a chance to better understand and develop your skills and interests, expand your network, build up that oh-so-important resume, and make your mark on the University. If you pass on just one you feel like you’re missing a chance to fulfill your potential, and perhaps even eliminating career opportunities in the future. But while this “do everything” proposal is inspiring in theory, when 300+ opportunities are presented to you, it becomes clear that it simply isn’t realistic.

The more responsibilities you take on, the less you can devote to each one. Rather than pouring yourself into a select few roles and seeing them to their full potential, you begin to do just enough cover the bases. You find yourself fulfilling your tasks out of obligation, rather than out of passion for the task itself. In this way, you’re eliminating the element that inspired your initial participation. And most likely missing out on more sleep than is healthy.

It’s been said that, “it doesn’t matter how many things you do, but how well you do them.” It is better to carefully choose just a few activities you’re truly passionate about and really do them right, than to pointlessly overextend yourself. Being “involved” doesn’t mean dabbling in a bit in everything, but being genuinely invested in what you are a part of.

So yes, try new things. Definitely explore. Absolutely get involved. Just make sure when you do, it’s not because you feel pressured, but because you truly care.

 ~Victoria, Class of 2016

Embrace the Mistakes

“You’re going to college!”

“How exciting!”

“Make the most of these four years, they go fast!”

“Try new things, get involved!”

“But don’t over-extend yourself!”

“Remember, you’re there to learn, school comes first!”

“Be well-rounded though, don’t lock yourself up in the library!”

“Have fun!”

“But not too much fun!”

           

As soon as I committed to the University of Delaware, it seemed any conversation I had was centered on, or at least full of advice on how to go about making the most of my college experience. Aunts, uncles, family friends, friends-of-friends, even my dentist had a word or two of counsel on how to do college “right.” They were valuable pieces of information, wise words based on years of experience, and I knew they would be useful to keep in mind. However, by the time I was pulling up to my residence hall on move-in day, they had accumulated to the point that I felt more paralyzed than empowered.

 

As I began to try and make decisions, I found myself second-guessing everything. Was that actually the best use of my time? Should I go to bed early or stay up a little later and work ahead? Does hanging out with friends and being social tonight make the most sense, or should I hit the books? With all the guidance I had been provided, I felt I was equipped to have the ideal freshman year, so each day had to go exactly right. I didn’t just want to have the perfect year; I was supposed to have the perfect year. In my book of “how to do college,” there was no margin for error.

 

Well freshman year came and went, and it was far from perfect. I made plenty of mistakes, slept through my fair share of classes, and mixed up the deadline for more than one assignment. On the other hand, I also joined several organizations that further developed my interests, took classes that inspired me, and made friends that are still my closest friends today. Some exams went better than others, there were good days and bad days, but overall, I look back on that year as a success. I left more than prepared for my sophomore year, and with plenty of fond memories to take with me.

 

It didn’t matter that each day didn’t achieve a perfect balance of work and play. It wasn’t important that my every action was directly related to my college success story. It wasn’t a big deal that I hadn’t followed every piece of advice I had ever gotten to a tee. I had turned out more than fine, and so had my freshman year. It wasn’t perfect, but it was perfect in its imperfection.

 

The irony is that in trying to make your college experience perfect, in attempting to successfully implement all that advice you accumulate, you make the biggest mistake of all. You will come to expect perfection, and then end up facing disappointment all year.

 

If I could go back to that first move-in day, as I stood in an empty dorm room that was as clean and bare as the freshman year that stretched out before me, I would have added one more piece of advice to the list: embrace the mistakes. It’s okay to strive for the ideal freshman year, to try your best to follow all the words of wisdom bestowed upon on you, but it’s equally okay to recognize that shortcomings are inevitable. In fact, it’s okay to anticipate them. Then, when you do encounter them, you don’t have to view them as failures, but rather something to accept and then put behind you.

 

Because chances are, you are going to have a great freshman year, mistakes and all. It won’t be perfect, but it will be wonderful.

~Victoria, Class of 2016

 

 

 

 

Memories of NSO

For the University of Delaware, summer means its time for a new freshmen class to populate campus, a campus they’ll be able to call their own for the first time. It is time for New Student Orientation, popularly known as, “NSO.”

 

NSO is a day that is as nerve-wracking as it is exhilarating, a time when your excitement for college is only matched by anxiousness about whatever the year might bring. You probably changed your outfit for three times and still aren’t completely satisfied with the final decision, (or maybe that’s just me). You smile for your ID picture and hope desperately that an image you’ll carry with you these next few years isn’t a complete disaster. You listen to each presentation with painstaking focus but still don’t feel like you totally get it.

 

However, it is also a day when you are in awe of the Orientation Leaders having so much energy so early in the morning. It is also a day when your stress about picking classes is significantly lessened after a one-on-one session with an adviser. It is also a day when you look at the students and setting around you and realize with growing eagerness that this place is beginning to feel like home.

 

I remember NSO, and all these aspects, vividly. But something I don’t always appreciate now that I’m on the other side is just how intimidating that day was as a rising freshman. That day symbolized beginning the transition from high school to college, the first step on a bridge to university life. I often forget that that step was little short of terrifying to me.

 

Instead, I look at the Class of 2018 with envy, for they are making a transition that in hindsight, appears perfectly manageable. The reality that awaits them is college, an enriching and invigorating reality I have come to know and love. This reality isn’t frightening anymore- it’s fun. Additionally, they will have mentors and professional assistants helping them along they way as they make the adjustment. The transition that looked like a long and rickety rope bridge to me as a rising freshmen, I regard now as a mere hop from one side of the road to the other.

 

I am preoccupied now with another transition that looms ahead of me. It is the change from university life to “real life.” My entry into this real world is what intimidates me now, for this transition is surely more difficult, surely more worthy of nervous anticipation than the one between high school and college.

 

But is it, though?

 

It is easy to look back at NSO, recognize how well everything turned out and how smoothly everything went, and say that transition wasn’t a big deal. It’s easy to belittle the transitions of the past and tell yourself that the one right ahead of you, that’s the one you need to worry about. Easy to say, easy to believe, but it’s not the truth.

 

The fact is, that transition was scary. But I was prepared for it, more prepared then I realized, and just as prepared as I will be when it comes time to graduate college. Watching the Class of 2018 go through NSO each day is a good reminder of that. If they are as half as nervous as I was, they’re awfully nervous. They’re also going to be just as okay I was, just as okay as my Class of 2016 will be as we go off into the world at the end of these 4 years.

 

To me, NSO is many things, but most of all, it is a poignant representation of transition. It is a picture of one of many changes we have to undergo as human beings, and it is a reminder of how worthwhile and manageable those changes turn out to be. Class of 2018, (and every class that comes after you), you guys are going to be just fine.

~Victoria, Class of 2016

Abby BarberMajor: Energy and Environmental PolicyMinors: Economics and Public PolicyGraduating Year: 2014Hometown: Greenville, DEExtracurricular Activities:Blue Hen Leadership ProgramStudy Abroad AmbassadorsDiversity Enrichment LeaderSocial Media AmbassadorGamma Sigma Sigma
(Click here to read Abby’s blog!)

Abby Barber
Major: Energy and Environmental Policy
Minors: Economics and Public Policy
Graduating Year: 2014
Hometown: Greenville, DE

Extracurricular Activities:
Blue Hen Leadership Program
Study Abroad Ambassadors
Diversity Enrichment Leader
Social Media Ambassador
Gamma Sigma Sigma

(Click here to read Abby’s blog!)

Jacki WahlquistMajor: Music ManagementGraduating Year: 2014Hometown: Mount Laurel, NJExtracurricular Activities: University of Delaware Blue Hen Application Manager University of Delaware Symphony Orchestra, Flute ProjectMUSIC Visiting Artist University of Delaware Community Music School Junior Faculty Flute Teacher Member of Sigma Alpha Iota Music Fraternity for Women Member of Crazy Pitches Flute Quartet University of Delaware Music Department Audition Day Volunteer Prospective Music Major Weekend Host
(Click here to read Jacki’s blog!)

Jacki Wahlquist
Major: Music Management
Graduating Year: 2014
Hometown: Mount Laurel, NJ

Extracurricular Activities:
University of Delaware Blue Hen Application Manager
University of Delaware Symphony Orchestra, Flute
ProjectMUSIC Visiting Artist
University of Delaware Community Music School Junior Faculty Flute Teacher
Member of Sigma Alpha Iota Music Fraternity for Women
Member of Crazy Pitches Flute Quartet
University of Delaware Music Department Audition Day Volunteer
Prospective Music Major Weekend Host

(Click here to read Jacki’s blog!)

Tony VacaroMajor: Mechanical Engineering with an Aerospace concentrationMinor: MathematicsGraduating Year: 2014Hometown: Newtown, CT
Extracurricular Activities:Resident Assistant for the Christiana Towers Christiana Towers Green TeamUDASME (UD chapter of American Society of Mechanical Engineers)Alpha Lambda Delta Honor’s SocietyIntramural Soccer/Basketball
(Click here to read Tony’s blog!)

Tony Vacaro
Major: Mechanical Engineering with an Aerospace concentration
Minor: Mathematics
Graduating Year: 2014
Hometown: Newtown, CT


Extracurricular Activities:
Resident Assistant for the Christiana Towers
Christiana Towers Green Team
UDASME (UD chapter of American Society of Mechanical Engineers)
Alpha Lambda Delta Honor’s Society
Intramural Soccer/Basketball

(Click here to read Tony’s blog!)