5: A Black Mark

5: A Black Mark

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

A Black Mark

Worry is a thin stream of fear trickling through the mind. If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained.

~Arthur Somers Roche

Everyone has something that they wish they could change but are forced to lay bare when applying for the college of their dreams. For some, it’s the overall grade point average, or SAT scores, or extracurricular activities that they didn’t do, or sports that they did but didn’t stand out in. For me, it was a single grade in a single class in a single semester.

The class was Advanced Placement Biology. The grade was a C.

I received an A in all of my other honors and advanced placement courses. But the C grade for AP Biology jumped out at me, screaming, from a column of As.

I received a C through a simple yet baffling combination of teenage angst and drama that occurred right before the final exam. The exam was worth 30% of my grade, and I was unprepared, physically and mentally drained. My poor performance slashed my A grade to a C. If my class grade prior to the exam had been a little bit lower, I would have failed the class.

That was little comfort to someone who was previously a straight A student. I was out of the running for valedictorian, since there was little room for error in my competitive class. But even worse, I immediately believed that it seriously took away my changes for getting into my top choice for college.

Friends and family shrugged my worries off with truth and logic. “Why are you worrying? Even with the C, your overall GPA is just fine. You’ll get into whatever college you really want to go to.”

But against all reason, I could not stop worrying about the one thing that I could not change. “I got a C in AP Biology.” I could not stop repeating it over and over to myself. A or B would have been understandable, but a C?

It was like an ugly pimple that I couldn’t see myself, but I knew everyone else could. In my mind the black mark on my transcript and on my face grew larger and larger until it was the first, last and only thing I could imagine anyone noticing about myself on my application or in person.

I imagined the responses of the admissions committee at various universities.

“This girl must be a slacker.”

“Whatever happened to her in the spring semester of junior year in AP Biology shows that she’s not worth our time.”

“Clearly, she has issues, and her issues do not belong at our university.”

From November, when I submitted my applications, until March when I received notices of acceptance and rejection, I stressed, I worried and I overanalyzed. I wasted more energy and emotion than should ever be spent on something that couldn’t be changed and could not have the power to control my fate.

My dad remarked, “I think what you’re doing is not necessary,” but when I insisted on applying to a lesser-known university because I was so worried that other choices would reject me, he wrote the check for the application fee.

As the application process drew to a close, I told fewer and fewer people of my worries. My friends no longer had a sympathetic ear to lend, and my family was tired of the grueling marathon. I kept my paranoia to myself, as the stress grew silently and disproportionately from what was reasonable.

The single grade in my past had become linked to success in college, my future and thus my overall happiness for the rest of my life. I was frightened into thinking that because of it, I would be rejected from all desirable colleges, never have a good career, and therefore be doomed.

The applications process blinded me, distorted my logic, and prevented me from accepting the truth that others repeatedly told me: admissions committees do not accept or reject someone based on one grade, and a single college’s acceptance or rejection does not ensure feelings of happiness or failure forever.

I have made many more mistakes in my life since then, but that was the only one that led to months of obsession, paranoia and stress. Yet I would not change that one black mark at all — the events that led up to it. I have no lingering regrets about the colleges that accepted me or rejected me and none about the college that I chose to attend.

All I regret is allowing something so small to corrode my insides for so long, when the future is determined not by mistakes that we all make at some time, but how we move on after they’ve been made.

~Joan Hyun Lee

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