1: Four Years of Stress: A Cautionary Tale

1: Four Years of Stress: A Cautionary Tale

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk Getting In...To College

Four Years of Stress: A Cautionary Tale

Carpe diem! Rejoice while you are alive; enjoy the day; live life to the fullest; make the most of what you have. It is later than you think.


I had been stressing about getting into college from my first year of high school. I remember sitting in my freshman biology class, learning about evolution, genetics, and fruit flies, thinking, “I better do well on next week’s test if I want to get into college.”

It was ridiculous, I know. Starting ninth grade, there are about one million other things I should have been worrying about, like friends and boys and teachers. To a freshman, college hovers promisingly — albeit distantly — at the end of a long and fun road filled with proms, crushes, friends, and youth. But in my mind, the admission process lurked from a preset date in the future that each passing day was counting down to. I couldn’t escape it; I could only prepare for it and hope that my fears about not being accepted anywhere, and therefore living a poor, sad, lonely life as punishment would not come true.

To be honest, I can’t really identify what was making me feel such silly pressure. Perhaps it was partly my family, who had worked hard to send me to a private high school and expected me, as “the brains” in my family, to go to a great college, do well, and thusly live a fabulous life (as going to Harvard would automatically usher me into heaven on earth).

On the other hand, perhaps it was my previous experience applying to private high schools that made me so anxious: just as for college admissions, there had been essays to write, transcripts to produce, and interviews to ace. The only difference was that I wasn’t applying to college, I was applying to high school, and I was only thirteen and overwhelmingly unsure. It had been a grueling, upsetting process, and maybe I thought that by preparing far in advance, I would somehow make the next time I had to apply for schools easier and less upsetting.

In the end, perhaps it was just my own disposition working against me. I am a planner, I am a worrier, and I am an over-preparer. Mix those traits with the demonized image of college applications lurking four years on the horizon and you get one very obsessive, very stressed Nacie.

The result was that I planned my entire high school experience around what would look good on my high school resume. I made sure I got into the advanced placement classes for history and English, my strong subjects. I tried to mask my weakness in math by carefully maneuvering into lower level classes, thinking a higher grade in an easy class would look better than a poor grade in a moderate level class. To round out my transcript, I overloaded on extracurricular activities, and spent most nights and weekends during high school in the theater, the photography dark room, or the astronomy observatory. Every opportunity that came my way was scrutinized by how involvement would help or hurt the way I looked to colleges. It was totally foolish.

So the years of high school passed by, each in their own unique and challenging way. With the approach of each summer vacation, my anxiety grew: one more year finished, one step close to college applications. At the end of my sophomore year, I started really obsessing over it, and by Christmas vacation of my junior year, I was in full-blown panic mode. People started talking about visiting colleges in the spring, my mom began to collect potential college brochures, and my dad started to prep me for my admission interviews over dinner.

Then it all started in earnest. There were applications sent to favorite schools for early decision, missed classes to go to interviews, and a sudden interest in anything that came in the mail bearing a college seal.

I felt sick with stress. I realized that the past three years had been filled with the displaced dread experienced upon waiting to board a huge rollercoaster. Suddenly, it felt like I was being locked into my plastic seat and launched full throttle into the air. The train had left the station, the momentum had started, and I realized with horror that all the worry I had carefully nurtured since the start of high school was meaningless and could do nothing to protect me from the loops, turns, and twists senior year would throw me.

And it did throw me. It was stressful, scary, intimidating, intense, and sometimes heart wrenching. The worst was hearing someone else got into the school you wanted and you were denied or, worse, relegated to that purgatory known as the waitlist. I got into several schools, but was rejected by several more. Each rejection stung and smacked with the feeling that if I had only tried a little harder, done a little more, it would have been an acceptance.

But before I knew it, the year was over, everyone had found a destination for the fall, and I was graduating from high school wearing a white dress and crying a single tear for the four years of memories I was too busy worrying to make.

It is true what they say: college is wonderful, a life changing experience. However, if someone asked me if it was worth all the drama and panic it caused in my life, I would have to say no. In fact, at this point I believe there aren’t many things in life that merit that type of worry. Thankfully.

Looking back on the way I tortured and stressed myself over those years I cringe and wish more than anything I could tell myself not too. High school is an amazing time in life, when you are old enough to become your own person, but young enough to make mistakes without regret. I think back to so many of those carefree afternoons and Saturdays when, instead of enjoying the freedom and frivolity of being sixteen, I had my nose buried in a book about the top ranked colleges that year.

It is true that you need to work hard and stay focused to get into a good school, but there comes a point where you have done all you can and the only thing that is left is to cross your fingers and hope for the best. Worry, stress, and anxiety do nothing to help any situation, and college admissions are no different. I learned the hard way that the real skill in the admissions process is not earning a stellar GPA or accumulating hundreds of hours of extracurriculars or fretting about an uncertain future. If you spend every minute wishing for or dreading the future, then you will never see how wonderful and special it is to be where you are right now, in this moment. The real skill is preparing and applying, all while still living your life, devouring every experience, and waking up each day being excited and grateful for the present.

~Nacie Carson


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