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What Makes You

December 11, 2016

Getting into Harvard does not make you a better student. Getting into Stanford does not make you a brighter programmer. Getting into Yale does not make you a smarter citizen.

But if you made it, congratulations. You’ve made it -- a tremendous opportunity.

Missing it to Purdue does not make you a lesser person. Missing out on a scholarship does not make you any lesser a future. Messing up that interview does not make you any worse an applicant.

But if you did, I’m sorry. I feel you, and I’m sure others do, too.

You’ve made it, or you’ve missed it. What does that make you?

It makes you a college student; it makes you more money on the margin; it makes you a better job title. It gets you a nice .edu email; it gets you some recognition; it gets you a higher salary.

But it does not make you. It does not change you from who you already were.

That admissions email or that letter of consolation says something about you. It may say quite a bit.

But it does not make you anything you aren’t.

No admissions letter is so magical as to transform you into a better mathematician. No email is so sought after as to pour into your mind a jug full of new discoveries. No Golden Ticket to your dream future is so elusive as to change who you are upon receipt.

As much as we tell ourselves as students to work hard for our dreams and look out for our future, we should remember that our friends, our interests, and our goals are not made by colleges, but by ourselves. So here:

Regardless of whether you made it to your most prestigious college or came away disappointed from one down your long list, you applied because of something -- because you wanted to make a difference in green energy, or because you were fascinated by neuroscience, or because you wanted to make your voice heard in a loud world full of loud mouths.

So. Don’t. Stop.

The next cancer treatment doesn’t care about your alma mater. The laws of physics don’t even think about your diploma (they’re too busy throwing dice at Einstein’s face). The people whose lives need saving, the causes whose supporters need planning care only about one thing -- that the world becomes a better place.

College admissions results can make you think all sorts of thoughts. They can make you think you’re the most qualified person in your class, and they can make you feel as if everything you’ve worked for pales in comparison to the resumés that cleared the red line or the waiting list above you.

I try not to think about it that way. I don’t justify my rejections, and I don’t analyze my admissions. I take them as what they are -- confirmations that I can exchange large sums of money for a dorm room and semesters of bedside studying, and move on. I’m trying to stop these letters from making me someone I’m not. I don’t want to be persuaded that I’m “good enough for X” or “not worthy of Y,” because I don’t want to change who I want to be in order to fit how I want to feel about myself.

I have causes I care about, and I have changes I want to see in the world, I have topics that get me excited, and I have opportunities that get me up in the morning. No college admission change any of that, and I’m glad they don’t. Because I’m pretty happy with them right now.

Because following your admissions < following your missions. And while I can’t control the former, I have some say in the latter.