By Rory Gilchrist
If you’re applying to colleges the likes of St. John’s, then chances are good that you’re a smart kid. Maybe a teacher was the first to tell you this, or your parents, or even yourself. You’ve been academically “successful” (whatever that means) in high school, and by all indications, you’re set to do the same in college.
But along with the trappings and glories of clever-dom—be they flawless AP scores, graduation honors, or juicy scholarships—there’s often an enormous amount of pressure. There’s not a lot of room at the top, and the fiery competition often is stoked by classmates, teachers and school administrators. Students clamor to outshine each other, curricularly and extra-, at public and private schools alike. The spectre of the most prestigious universities (dare one speak their names out loud?) looms overhead, sometimes invoked as an explanation, an excuse for all this concours. High-schoolers need all these opportunities to distinguish themselves when application season (t)rolls around.
And so, along with this, asking for help is strongly stigmatized. “Your merits,” the unspoken refrain of hyper-competitive institutions goes, “are only your own if they are entirely your own.”
This is ridiculous.
The New York Times’ higher-education blog The Choice published an article titled “Advice for Smart Students on Succeeding in College“. I really love how correspondent Lionel Anderson puts it:
…A maddening irony: our top colleges and universities expend unimaginable sums of money per student to supply the very best academic resources American higher education has to offer while admitting scores of students who — by virtue of their own presumption or, in some cases, the dominant peer culture — regard using said resources as an indication of deficiency.
For years, teachers, guidance counselors and loved ones have made so much of how brilliant, creative and gifted you are that it will be very easy for you to overlook or, worse, look askance at the people stationed to propel you even further once you arrive on campus.
College shouldn’t, in this blogger’s opinion, be about elevating even further the lone achievements of super-star students, or a four year trial by fire where only the elite can win éclat. It’s about learning about learning; a challenging but supportive environment that asks you to work to the fullest extent of your abilities, and to seek out (and employ effectively) the right resources to help you when the task lies beyond your own capabilities. There shouldn’t be any shame in admitting your limits; instead, we should laud those who equally acknowledge their flaws and work around them.
So, you, dear reader, don’t lose hope. Wherever you find yourself in the near future, there are people who will be happy to help you. It’s human to want to seem as magnificent as possible, but you do not have to bear such a burden alone. Keep the courage to succeed in all your endeavors, and the humility and honesty to ask for help.