“College Planning: Getting You Into the Best School You Can” was displayed on the projector. I was just in eighth grade, and a counselor in the high school was about to tell us how we could get into a Princeton or a Yale. I had gotten my braces off two days prior and found a dress for my last middle school “mixer” that same week, I didn’t feel old enough to be talking about college—let alone a school with a single-digit acceptance rate.
Before East, I had gone to a small private school with about 90 students in my grade. I dreaded going every day because every test felt like the Hunger Games—it was a competition to see who get the best grade on assignments as little as a 10-question worksheet. All of those students were set on going into pre-med at Princeton or pre-law at Harvard—including myself. For me, I thought getting into an IVY league school was the key to lifetime happiness.
Administrators, teachers and parents of other students ingrained the thought that you have to go to the hardest school you can get into in our brains. “We don’t send our students to in-state schools,” or “Your parents didn’t pay $20,000 per year for you to go to KU,” were lines I heard on a weekly, if not daily, basis from administrators and parents. Even if KU or K-State was your perfect fit, they would tailor an out-of-state school to fit you. Aspects such as location and weather were factors I never even considered because my superiors wanted their students to believe that rigor and prestige were all that mattered.
While these thoughts were overtaking my mind from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays, I wasn’t born into such a competitive atmosphere. My grandpa played football for KU, and everyone else on my mom’s side of the family were jayhawks. March Madness was a happier time in my house than the holiday season because we always anticipated another NCAA championship.
However, when I left my house and got to school, I put on my IVY hat and studied so I wouldn’t get below a 95 percent on any assignment or test because that is what I was trained to do. Eventually, I got tired of—what felt like—a double life. I was more than ready to leave the cult of brainiacs that was my private school.
On my first day at East, I was astounded by how much everyone built each other up before a test or presentation. I was ready to not talk to anyone and video-tape each lecture so I could watch it before the unit test. But instead, everyone was supportive and excited to be in class.
I never understood why anyone could have so much fun in school. It wasn’t until I asked the boy to my left in Honors World Regional Studies what colleges his friends wanted to go to that I understood the more easy-going atmosphere.
“None of us know exactly where we want to go,” he said. “But we all want each other to go somewhere that makes [he/she] happy.”
No one was competing with anyone else. No one was trying to make anyone feel bad about getting below a ‘B’ on a test. Everyone wanted to go somewhere that they felt happy.
As I started meeting with college counselors, visiting campuses and talking to students, I came to know that the most important part of a college, to me, was that the atmosphere felt joyous on campus.
Throughout the course of my high school career, I have never been ashamed to tell anyone that KU is on my list. I know I would be happy in the lively, vibrant town that is Lawrence, and I’m proud of that fact.
Over time, I have realized an ACT score, GPA, acceptance rate and the amount of money spent on a private education are just numbers. Quality of life cannot be measured—it is a feeling. Even if I don’t end up at KU, I know that the school I choose will have been picked based on happiness.